It’s undeniable that Mark Wahlberg has one of the most interesting careers in Hollywood, even some of his greener acting projects are worth checking out (having been party to more than a few bad boy infatuations, his David McCall in Fear will always be one of my favorites). His roles are often times sly and softspoken, and always fun to watch, but much of his appeal seems to come in knowing that just under the surface, a deep, explosive reaction is waiting—even when he’s completely in control. His latest film, Contraband, directed by Baltasar Kormakur, succeeds on many levels, but I think mainly by working Walhberg’s underlying fierceness into character Chris Farraday, building tension and uncertainty all the way (together with gunfire, explosions, and switcharoos).
Farraday is a former smuggler turned security systems specialist, who in an unexpected turn of events emerges from retirement to bail out his brother in law, Andy. After having dumped (and lost) the illicit goods of one of Farraday’s former smuggling colleagues (played wonderfully by Giovanni Ribisi), Andy needs Chris’s help to not only score something big, but to safely transport it back to the states on a ship and unload it while Ribisi’s unsavory character, Tim Briggs, keeps watch over Farraday’s wife (Kate Beckinsale) and young sons.
Heist films are fun, though since the success of the Ocean’s Eleven franchise, nothing is really ever stolen in the manner outright portrayed anymore, and this film is no exception. I daresay that the thrill in this film is not so much the outcome of the narrative but the actions, reactions, and relationships between its characters. The characters are interesting, well-acted, and we care about what happens to them. Farraday’s relationship with his wife and brother in law are important, but so is his connection with his former partner in crime/best friend, Sebastian (Ben Foster) and the camaraderie and trust shared among the container ship’s crew (most of whom are absolutely giddy with excitement to welcome him back). Though we never witness any hard evidence or flashbacks of the glory days of Farraday’s smuggling past, everyone else in the film radiates such a respect and almost awe for the things he’s done, we don’t really need to—when the time comes (which yes, takes a while to arrive), we’re not disappointed; Farraday definitely still knows his stuff.
Despite the eagerness and occasional humor that keeps Farraday’s early scenes on the ship mostly positive, there’s just as much darkness and tension concerning his wife and children back at home, Tim Briggs, Sebastian, and the eventual heist, once it gets going. When the film starts exploring these things, one can’t help but cringe with worry in how it’s all going to come together (or not) in the end, giving very much the same vibe of danger and discomfort as during the cocaine scam/firecracker/Jesse’s Girl scene in Boogie Nights, but stretched out for nearly an hour on until the film’s conclusion—-just GET OUT, you want to yell, time and time again!
It’s still a good time though, further kudos for the opening credits, the music, especially the ending scene, and casting choices Lukas Haas (who in Mars Attacks, puzzles over “maybe they no-liking the human beings?” with waitress) and J.K. Simmons (Schillinger from Oz). Well done, all. And Mr. Wahlberg— though we’re not technically acquainted, please feel free to say hello to your mother for me.