At 40, actor/producer Mark Wahlberg appears to be at the top of his game. He has more than three dozen screen credits, among them a standout performance early in his career in Boogie Nights. A successful producer in television, (Entourage & Boardwalk Empire) Wahlberg seems clever enough to mix macho leading roles (Max Payne, The Shooter) with ensemble appearances that evidence serious acting skills The Italian Job, Perfect Storm, The Departed). This movie finds him squarely in the former category, playing a felon gone legitimate in a film of such breathtaking momentum and brisk violence it’s sure to be among the year’s most successful outings for the testosterone set.
Set in New Orleans and Panama, Wahlberg plays Chris Farraday, a cunningly successful career criminal who’s had the good sense to retire and start his own home security company. Happily married to wife Kate, (Kate Beckinsale) and father to a pair of boisterous young sons, Farraday finds himself pulled back into his former life to save his brother-in-law, who threw a load of cocaine overboard on an in-bound freighter from Panama to New Orleans. The shipment was destined for drug runner Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi) who confronts Farraday with threats against his wife and sons if the reformed smuggler doesn’t make good his brother-in-law’s inability to deliver.
Armed with cronies from his former life and the assistance of his best friend Sebastian Abney (Ben Forster) Farraday sets off on a felonious binge which includes armed robbery, counterfeiting, breaking and entering and in a delicious bit of diversion, art theft.
The secret to this sort of male adolescent nonsense of course is pacing - - if a director takes his foot off the gas pedal, the entire project can look as preposterous as hell. But think of Bruce Willis’ successful turns in the Die Hard series or Liam Neeson’s maniacal pursuit of white slavers in Taken; momentum can sweep aside anything in its path - - especially plausibility.
Cinematographer Barry Ackroyd has an affinity for armed conflict (The Hurt Locker, Green Zone) and he makes the back alleys of Panama City and the docks of New Orleans seem the civilian version of war zones. His gritty settings and shadowy images of the bowels of container ships, late-night gin-joints and Central American chop-shops lend a visual sense of credibility to the plot’s improbabilities, but it’s newcomer Baltasar Kormåkur, the first Icelandic director hired to do a Hollywood thriller, who’s responsible for the compulsive enjoyment that fills this movie’s nearly 2-hour crime spree.
Kormåkur’s countryman, well-known Icelandic crime novel author Arnaldur Indriøason developed the script for Contraband by re-working his own 4 year-old screenplay for Reykjavik-Rotterdam, transferring the storyline of that film from the Atlantic to the Caribbean and Gulf Coast for this version.
Everything in Contraband is of a piece - - crude language, violent beatings and gun battles worthy of a 3rd world coup. Wahlberg barrels through it all, yelling encouragement to his crew while snarling at everyone else. Only an actor at the top of his Hollywood star status could bring it off…and that’s exactly what he does.
The Verdict-It may be a guilty pleasure, but it’s hard deny the adrenalin rush this one delivers…but it’s definitely not for film esthetes or the faint of heart.
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