Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur’s Hollywood debut Contraband starts out slow. There is a lot of build-up, a lot of setting up the various players in this piece. A lot of atmosphere. So by the time the action kicks in we are good and ready—a little impatient even.
And a really weird thing happened to me pretty early on in the film. As leading man Mark Wahlberg is walking towards an apartment—I know he has a gun in his waistband and something relevant is about to go down—but, for no reason that I can adequately explain I begin to imagine what it must have been like when Mr. Kormákur had his first meeting with Mr. Wahlberg to discuss this film.
I have no real idea why I mentally skipped out of the movie to imagine Mr. Wahlberg’s ‘Yo Baltasar’ moment but I did read that shot durations in movies and movie trailers are getting shorter with each passing year (something about audiences being able to grasp more information in shorter amounts of time) so maybe my brain already figured out what was going to happen on screen and used up the spare time imagining the meeting that led to this film being up on screen in the first place.
I’m boggling my own mind right now. So I’ll stop, and resume writing about the movie instead.
To my mind Contraband was like a mash-up of The Italian Job, The Mechanic, Heat and Man on Fire. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily.
Mr. Wahlberg plays Mr. Wahlberg playing a tough guy. Yet again. But he does it so darned well that it seems needlessly churlish to demand he do anything else. Giovanni Ribisi benefits from styling but he has little to offer in terms of genuine performance. Not this time. Ben Foster doesn’t even seem to have changed out of his Mechanic-era clothing. Or demeanour. And Kate Beckinsale; well let me put it this way: there was a small role for a woman in this movie and since Mark Wahlberg wasn’t going to make out with Adam Sandler in drag Ms. Beckinsale was as good a missus as any other working actress to play the part.
The movie, based on the Icelandic original Reykjavik-Rotterdam has enough twists and turns to satisfy the patient cine-goer. It has been handled with panache, the action sequences are energetic and it all comes together with this tidy right-of-Hollywood aesthetic that contributes healthily towards making it seem a ‘little more’ than the average cookie-cutter thriller that comes out of the machine.
What more do you want?