Klavan On The Culture

DVD Review: Contraband

If a terrific cast made for a terrific movie, Contraband would be terrific. In The Departed, The Fighter and We Own The Night, Mark Wahlberg has shown himself to be an expert and appealing tough guy actor. And as for Ben Foster and Giovanni Ribisi — I would watch those guys shoot the phone book. They are so great at playing edgy, sleazy, crazy guys, they fill every scene they’re in with a sense of danger. (If you like out-of-the-way crime dramas and you’ve never seen Foster in Alpha Dog, stop reading this and go watch it.) Even British will-o-the-wisp Kate Beckinsale does a thoroughly creditable job here as a working class American wife. The performances are fun to watch long after the picture runs out of steam.

Which it does about half an hour in. The movie is a remake of a 2008 Icelandic production, and it feels like a foreign film — not in a good way. It tells the story of an expert smuggler trying to go straight for the sake of his wife and kids. But when his brother-in-law gets in dutch with a lunatic gangster, the smuggler has to pull one last job to bail him out.

So far so good, but after that, and for much of the heart of the movie, our hero is pulled passively into various dangers — something that just doesn’t happen in American films and with good reason. Plus, as sympathetic as Wahlberg plays him, the guy is really kind of a stinker. I mean, it was interesting to see him light up with excitement as he re-enters a life of crime after dutiful years on the up-and-up. But when he participates in heists that get law officers killed and makes his pile in thoroughly despicable transactions — I’m sorry, call me a prig, but I’m not rooting for him anymore.

So – the cast will pull you through this but you can do better. Watch Alpha Dog instead.