Friday, January 20, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Contraband (2012)

Regular readers know that newly released "R" rated action movies aren't the typical bill of fare here at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings. But as I mentioned last weekend, I've been intrigued by the trailer and some good reviews for the new film CONTRABAND (2012). With a tight schedule this weekend, off we went to an equally rare late show tonight. I guess that's my version of walking on the wild side! And I had quite a good time.

CONTRABAND is based on REYKJAVIK-ROTTERDAM (2008), an Icelandic thriller. (Iceland has a film industry? Who knew?) Baltasar Kormakur, the star of the original film, directed the remake.

Mark Wahlberg plays Chris Farraday, a one-time smuggler gone good. He now has a pretty wife, Kate (Kate Beckinsale), and two little boys, as well as his own security business in New Orleans.

Chris's pretty nice life heads south in a hurry when Kate's ugly, idiotic little brother Andy (Caleb Landry Jones), a would-be smuggler, tosses a load of drugs overboard when the ship is boarded by customs. The drug dealers don't take kindly to this and put Andy in the hospital. It's up to Chris to get the bad guys off his family's back, and he ultimately decides he has no choice other than to pull off the proverbial "one last job" in order to pay off the kingpins threatening his entire family.

Think of it as a gritty version of OCEAN'S 11, with the ol' gang being a bunch of gnarly seamen. Unlike the OCEAN'S films, though, things constantly go wrong, but Chris is one cool customer, even when caught in the middle of a shootout in Panama. The ultimate payoffs are sweet, and I couldn't help laughing that the ending was very "pre-Code." Crime, it seems, does not always have to be punished in 2012.

If one is willing to ignore the fact that the script is one long "F" word (think I'm kidding?!) and the characters aren't always particularly admirable, it's a fun movie, violent but not very bloody, with some clever bits of business. (And for those who have seen it, I guessed the payoff with the hot art!) I don't usually do children in peril well, but the film was right at a level that was OK for me. Likewise a sequence near the end was creepy, but it didn't cross so far over the line I couldn't enjoy the film.

Wahlberg is perfect as the intrepid hero (or is he an anti-hero?), and I also really liked Beckinsale as his wife. One has the sense, guessing at an unsaid back story, that her life hasn't always been easy either, but together Kate and Chris have found a kind of peace and a normal family life, which they're trying to preserve.

Ben Foster is effective as Sebastian, Chris's best friend who is struggling with his own demons. Giovanni Ribisi is quite scary as a psycho drug dealer.

The cinematography by Barry Ackroyd is annoyingly cutesy on closeups, zooming in and out of focus, but he does a nice job juxtaposing the unique beauty and pathetic mess that is New Orleans. The action sequences with choppers are crisply shot and attractive. As L.A. Times reviewer Betsy Sharkey notes, "What makes the action sequences so mesmerizing is the sheer size of the boats and all those containers stacked like tinker toys. That is the perfect staging ground for mayhem, with such good, clean lines for the lens to frame."

The film runs an hour and 49 minutes.

Parental advisory: As mentioned, this film is rated R for language, along with violence and drug use. I felt the rating was definitely on target.

Sometimes the timing is right to see something completely different from the norm, and CONTRABAND didn't disappoint. Recommended for those looking for a well-made action film.


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