Contraband Movie Review (2012)
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Contraband Movie Review (2012)

Rather than trash the messy screenplay (which, of course, features the predictable end-twist of the conflicted good-guy outsmarting everybody, and I mean, everybody), I want to single out the direction by Mr. Kormakur and the cinematography by Barry Ackroyd. Their combined efforts is a silly imitation of Tony Scott, whose style is full of quirks to make fun of. The montage of "Contraband" is constantly on the move, with many shots lasting just a fraction of a second and the camera propelled in sweeping motions this way and that. Worse still is the amateurish lighting. Already-gloomy interiors like the halls of a freighter are made insufferably dark. Worst of all is a moment where Mr. Wahlberg has a gun pointed at his face, and the gun disappears into the static black background until the gunman happens to push it closer to Mr. Wahlberg's forehead. "Contraband" is sheer misery to look at as well as experience.

There are some genres you hope will never die. Personally, I love low-budget monster movies, and I hope the Japanese will never lose their enthusiasm for it, either. However, there are also some genres you wish the film-making community would just allow to sputter out and die. Personally, I am really sick and tired of the politically-correct drugs-are-bad would-be thrillers. In particular, I am tired of these types of films whose directors feel an intrinsic desire to copycat Tony Scott. "Contraband," directed by Baltasar Kormakur, is just one of the many. Hollywood is allowing this type of film to sputter, as that is all "Contraband" does for an insufferable 109 minutes, but refuses to let it die.

This genre also makes me long for the day that Mark Wahlberg drops hand-me scripts with characters with similar pasts to him. Mr. Wahlberg had a somewhat rambunctious youth; as a result, almost all of the characters he has played have been crooks or former-crooks. This time around, the throwaway part is a former narcotics smuggler who ends up having to travel to Panama City in order to pay back a drug peddler (Giovanni Ribisi) for a deal his brother-in-law did. I won't go into too much detail about the overly-convoluted and uninteresting plot, but does Mr. Wahlberg really feel that his talents reside at this level? True, I am not his biggest fan. But he is capable of good work. Case in point: Martin Scorsese's "The Departed." In that film, he upstaged everybody, even Jack Nicholson. In "Contraband," he does an ample enough job; but "ample enough" was not enough to get me to care about his character, or his wife, or his children.

Not one character - or performance, for that matter - is worth caring about. Miss Beckinsale is very pretty (and can be good) but is just a good-looking bore here. Mr. Ribisi, much to my surprise, gives one of the worst performances of 2012 as the sloppy kingpin. Watching him only made me wonder which real-life crook he decided to poorly imitate for the role. Ben Foster tries his best, but gives his character no sense of life or struggle. The only one who stands out in any way is J.K. Simmons, an actor who I hope can one day demonstrate on a big screen again that he is a first-rate talent. So far, he seems relegated to the small screen.

Rather than trash the messy screenplay (which, of course, features the predictable end-twist of the conflicted good-guy outsmarting everybody, and I mean, everybody), I want to single out the direction by Mr. Kormakur and the cinematography by Barry Ackroyd. Their combined efforts is a silly imitation of Tony Scott, whose style is full of quirks to make fun of. The montage of "Contraband" is constantly on the move, with many shots lasting just a fraction of a second and the camera propelled in sweeping motions this way and that. Worse still is the amateurish lighting. Already-gloomy interiors like the halls of a freighter are made insufferably dark. Worst of all is a moment where Mr. Wahlberg has a gun pointed at his face, and the gun disappears into the static black background until the gunman happens to push it closer to Mr. Wahlberg's forehead. "Contraband" is sheer misery to look at as well as experience.

There is a market for this type of film. It is precisely the sort of financially safe, wintertime thriller that can be easily forgotten (even by those who loved it) come the next year, at which point Hollywood will have another thrill-less ride and a thankless leading male part to shell out. This is the second time in my memory where Mark Wahlberg landed a role in a crime-thriller based off a foreign film. If the original is just as lacking in zest and the ability to stimulate interest as "Contraband," I hope never to see it. I am really tired of seeing this sort of film.

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