Contraband (2012)

Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch are back except this time, they’re robbing people!

Mark Wahlberg plays Chris, a former drug smuggler who must revert back to a life of crime when his brother-in-law (Caleb Landry Jones) botches a drug deal for his ruthless boss (Giovanni Ribisi). To settle the debt, Wahlberg’s character assembles a team of crooks and does what he does best: smuggling contraband.

Icelandic director Baltasar Kormàkur seems like a pretty inspired choice for a flick that seems so simple and could have easily been done by a schmuck like Joel Schumacher or someone else of that kind. However, it doesn’t matter who the director may be, it still needs to work which is something this film kind of does and doesn’t do.

Kormàkur starts this story off pretty well with just the right amount of mystery, energy, and suspense to fill the air. The plot does take its time getting to where it has to go but the action scenes, when they come, are very well-done. Notice how I said ‘when they come’. Still though, they are used to actually to move this plot along and not just used as an action flick device that we usually come-and-get. Also, I love heist films so going into this, I wasn’t expecting much else other than some really cool and tricky heists which is what this film provided enough to satisfy me and keep me guessing.

The problem with most of these action scenes, as fun and exciting as they truly may be, for some reason it’s filmed with the annoying shaky-cam that we always see and hate, but is used to create a feeling here that doesn’t work. Whenever action hits this flick, the camera always moves around at a rapid and paranoid pace, as if it kept constantly looking around each corner, making sure not to get caught pulling off the heist itself. The shaky-cam is obviously something I hate no matter what the film may be, but here it didn’t seem needed considering how slick the action sequences are in the first place.

I also think another problem with this film is that for some reason the direction and screen-writing never really seem on the right page at all. The film is marketed as a silly and dumb action flick but it’s a lot much more smarter than that and sometimes teeters on drama. When I mean drama though, I mean the kind of drama where they try to really discuss some real issues about family, betrayal, and alcoholism. Let me remind you, I am talking about the film called ‘Contraband’. The film could have honestly been a thriller, heist, drama, and action flick but for some reason, the film doesn’t know how to jell all of that together in the right way in order for it to seem reasonable and not so uneven. It also doesn’t help that the plot stops and starts so many times to the point of where I just wanted the damn boat that they were in to blow up just for the action to stay constant.

Mark Wahlberg is pretty reliable as an actor here to pull of this good-guy role as Chris, to where it isn’t an obvious attempt at making a former criminal seem like a hero. Actually, he doesn’t really do much here that we haven’t seen him do already but watching Wahlberg play in his comfort zone isn’t so bad in the first place. Kate Beckinsale plays his wife, Kate, and she really does try to give some weight to her character but she doesn’t really do much here and just comes off as a plot device for Chris to have a race-against-the-clock situation.

Giovanni Ribisi seems like a strange choice for the villainous role here as the thug Tim Briggs, but he’s actually very good with his eccentric and sometimes crazy acting style to make this bad guy a bit more menacing than I was expecting, and always entertaining; Ben Foster is also great as Sebastian, Chris’s best friend, who has a battle with alcoholism and always strides in these kind of roles; and it was also nice to see J.K. Simmons doing a role that was humorous but also never made you forget that he was a total dick-head as Captain Camp.

Consensus: Contraband features many problems with its script, tone, and annoying camera issues, but the cast somehow rise above the material and make this crime/thriller/action/heist/drama flick a very entertaining, if flawed one to say the least. But hey, it’s January and I was at least entertained rather than feeling depressed.



  1. Nice review. I wasn’t expecting much from this movie when I viewed the trailer, but surprisimgly got more than I expected. I agree with a number of ur points, except for the comment for Ribisi. In my opinion he was one of the best characters in this movie, and always knocks it out of the park for me. He was the main reason I even gave this movie a chance…lol. The film is entertaining, but mediocre at best 🙂

    • He’s a good actor and he’s good here but overall it’s just a film that exists for no reason other than to be fun, which I am not totally against. Thanks Taj!

  2. January release are always flops, it’s sad. And I don’t know why everyone always knocks Joel Schumacher! I thought Phantom of the Opera was amazing, it was a perfect adaptation and he was at the realm. Give him some credit! Great review!

  3. It’s more of an excuse to go to a movie than a reason, yeah. The director also directed the original European movie this was based on – I am curious to see how that compares.

  4. Why is it that the guy always goes back to crime because he is forced to in order for a greater good. I want a movie where the guy just decides to go back to crime for the heck of it.

  5. Wasn’t really interested in this one… Felt like a movie I’ve seen before like five times. I may check it out on DVD now that there are so many must see movies in theaters right now.

  6. Nice to see we’re on the same page with this movie. While heist movies are common, smuggling isn’t really – and I think I know why now. It’s not as entertaining.

    Joe, while that would be cool, there’s a reason why we root for the protagonists in these situations. If he went back to it for the hell of it and failed, we viewers wouldn’t be as emotionally involved. In other words, we wouldn’t give a shit. So sorry to burst your bubble, but that’ll never happen.

  7. Mediocre movies or movies that don’t work usually have the problem of not being able to figure out exactly what kind of movie it is. When you say how it doesn’t gel all those genres together, it kind of sounds like this is the case here.

      • Right? And didn’t one of the guys have long hair too? I bet that was pretty awful for that guy every time they had to do a retake or something. Did they ever explain why they thought to use that method though? I’ve read somewhere someone theorizing that it was because then the mask wouldn’t come off as easily during a heist, but is that the reasoning they used in the movie?

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