The Art of Smuggling

Any thriller worth its salt will continue to up the stakes for its protagonist, thus increasing the level of tension.  Contraband, the new smuggling thriller starring Mark Wahlberg, does just that.  That is, it continually ups the stakes for its protagonist.  Unfortunately, the level of tension does not increase along with the stakes as it should.  This leaves Contraband to be rather dull—with the exception of one legitimately tense sequence near the end—despite all the crazy stuff going on with the plot.

Wahlberg stars as Chris Farraday, a former smuggler who has gone straight out of consideration for his wife and two sons.  He now has his own security installation company and appears to be doing quite well.  That is, until his brother-in-law dumps a package that he was smuggling for a vicious drug dealer.  At the threat of his family’s safety, Chris is forced back into the business to make things square.

The job is to hop a freighter down to Panama where they will pick up millions of dollars worth of counterfeit bills and transport them back to the States.  It is once they are down in Panama that the stakes are upped.  Disappointed to learn that his supplier has printed the fake bills on the wrong paper, Chris must instead visit a more dangerous supplier.  Chris must then pull off a job with this man’s crew in order to avoid being—literally—fed to the wolves.  Meanwhile, back home, his wife and kids are being threatened and the one man they think can help may not be all that he seems.

Wahlberg as Farraday in ContrabandThere is a lot going on in Contraband and the plot twists keep coming, but I never really felt that there was any true danger to the protagonist or his family.  The lone exception is that sequence near the end when Chris must race against the clock in order to save his wife.  Aside from this sequence, which begins with a confrontation between Chris’s wife and a family friend, the tension is limited.  No matter how close Chris cuts it when returning to the ship, or how many people might be lurking in the hallways while they attempt to stash the goods, there is never any real fear that they are going to be caught.

Tension or not, I did like how the movie all came together in the end.  Namely, I liked the way the movie resolved the smuggling plotline.  The methods used by Chris and his companions to get the goods back into the States without them being seized by customs is very creative and made for some great “Aha!” moments in the final act.

Wahlberg is perfectly cast as Farraday, a role that fully takes advantage of his tough-guy image.  The rest of the cast is fine, but nobody really stands out.  The lone exception may be Giovanni Ribisi as the vicious dealer.  I don’t know when it was, but at some point Ribisi became typecast as strung-out characters with harsh voices.  His character’s voice was so similar to his role in last year’s The Rum Diary that it had me wondering if the actor’s voice had actually changed.

Directed by Baltasar Kormakur, the movie is uneven and the timeline gets a little confusing near the end.  The script is also difficult to follow at times and the characters often speak in the lingo of the trade, which anyone not involved in smuggling—I’m hoping most of you—might have a hard time deciphering.  Too bad the filmmakers couldn’t smuggle in a little more entertainment value.

Contraband is rated R for “violence, pervasive language, and brief drug use.”  The rating is certainly appropriate, what with all the bloody head-shots and cocaine usage.

Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of Contraband.