“Contraband” – Review by Christian Becker

January releases are notorious for being less than satisfying. After the big time Oscar contenders have all been released, the leftovers are then dumped onto the first few months of the year for all to be disappointed with. However, there are always exceptions to things like this. A few years back, the action thriller, Taken, won over audience members and became a huge January hit. Now it seems that Contraband can do the same with its dark and gritty style and entertaining plot.

Mark Wahlberg plays Chris Farraday, an ex-smuggler who has given up a life of crime for his wife (Kate Beckinsale) and two kids. People talk all the time about how Chris was the best, but he swears never to return to the business. That is, until Chris’s brother in law (Caleb Landry Jones) gets caught up with the wrong crowd, so much so that he now owes the city’s most fearsome gangster (Giovanni Ribisi) the money he lost trying to complete a job. It’s now up to Chris to come out of retirement and pull off one last job to save his family.

While it may not be a great film, Contraband still packs in a lot of entertaining qualities. There is always something interesting going on, even when there is no on-screen action. Action is in this movie, and when it hits it hits hard, but thee is not as much as you would expect there to be.  When looking back at it, there are really only one or two big action sequences in the movie. That’s not to say the rest of the film is boring or an eventful. Just much less action then your would expect from a movie whose poster features a jacked Mark Wahlberg holding a gun and sporting an intimidating look.

The heist portion of the film, oddly enough, was both impressive and disappointing to me. Where it was impressive was in the realism of the plot and how grounded the plan and stunts actually were. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying someone could pull this off for sure, but there are no outrageous stunts, no high tech gadgets, just real people pulling off a real job in which I’m sure real people actually do for money. It was very cool to see something that could have been done so badly and over the top, instead, be so grounded in reality, especially a gritty film like this. What disappointed me was the character development and stories, or should I say lack there of, of each crew member helping Chris pull off this job. In fun heist movies like Ocean’s Eleven or The Italian Job, the director goes through the process of building a relationship between the characters so you can see them all as friends and even see where they came from and how they got to be who they are. In Contraband, we get none of that. Characters for the crew are just briefly talked about and are never given a chance to be an important part of the story.

On the side, Kate Beckinsale gets many scenes to herself as she and her kids get harassed by the gangsters out to get her and Chris if he doesn’t follow through, and she proves to be quite the powerful actress during these scenes. Beckinsale has acted in many feature films before this one (most notable are Underworld and Pearl Harbor), but this was the first movie I’ve seen her in where she gave a stand out performances and was able to hold scenes all by herself. Mark Wahlberg never does anything too impressive, but he’s good for what the role is. just know that this isn’t The Departed or The Fighter style of performance, it’s more of a Shooter or Four Brothers type. Either way, he’s good in the role.

Contraband is no where near a perfect film, but I don’t think it’s expected to be. Not every film can be an award winner. Some are just made to entertain and provide decent thrills for two hours, and on that note, Contraband succeeds. Just don’t get you’re hopes up for adrenaline rush action, memorable characters or to even remember it the next day.

Grade: B-

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