Reader Request: Contraband

The amount of working parts needed to make a film flow smoothly never ceases to amaze me. What’s even more amazing is the ability of these details to derail a movie once they are made apparent. The confusing camera work in Contraband takes you out of a movie that has a surprising amount of suspense.


Chris Farraday (Mark Wahlberg) was the Houdini of smuggling before he retired to install security systems and start a family with Kate (Kate Beckinsale). Everything was going fine until her younger brother, Andy (Caleb Landry Jones, X-Men: First Class), botches a cocaine job for the brutal Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi). Chris decides to come out of retirement for one more job to save his family with the help of his best friend, Sebastian (Ben Foster), and most of his old crew.

As made apparent in the trailer, Contraband is more about action and the art of smuggling, than a complex plot or acting performances. The intricate planning and convoluted networks used to smuggle anything into the U.S. is shown fairly well when they aren’t trying to get you invested in the story. Any twist or surprise (even though none are out of the ordinary) is revealed pretty early, allowing the action scenes to be the sole focus of the viewers. The hints for Chris’ plan are displayed without much effort required on your part as well. Apart from Foster, the actors do not raise any eyebrows for their ability to dive into a role.

Foster easily has the most complicated character in Sebastian, a recovering alcoholic and drug addict trying to get clean and straighten his life out, while still peddling in the underworld of smuggling. He shows a bit of range in the transformation of Sebastian as he gets sucked into Chris’ last mission. For the most part, the rest of the cast is average. Wahlberg finds time to look down, compose his thoughts, and look back up with a stern/loving/sad/etc. demeanor (it’s actually kind of amusing watch him sit there and think of which emotion he needs when he raises his head). The confusing performances come from Ribisi and J.K. Simmons (Captain Camp). Ribisi ends up sounding like someone who just had his or her wisdom teeth pulled, and Simmons is trying to give the best impression of what he thinks a New Orleans accent is. They both get pretty annoying by the end.

The fact that the camera work was noticeable should be evidence enough that it was terrible. During one-on-one conversations, there are close-ups, nonstop zooming (in and out), focus problems, spurts of shaky handling even though the film is not shot documentary style, and a large lack of communication between director and camera man. Initially, these problems seem like those of the theater, but once your eyes adjust, it is clear that they are fundamental flaws, which is unacceptable from a high budget film.

The action/smuggling scenes are by far the best part. Contraband is able to maintain a stress level high enough to keep you interested to the end, even though the result is never in doubt. When push comes to shove, there isn’t any need to see Contraband in theaters. It will be a fun ride when you are watching FX later on and want to turn off your brain for ninety minutes.

  1. There’s not a lot to think about while watching it and we’ve seen some of this plot before in other films, but for a movie opening in January, it’s actually pretty damn good thanks to a couple of cool heists and a relatively good cast. Nice review.

    • Thanks! Considering I was expecting a terrible movie all around, I was pleasantly surprised by the heists and action.

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