Film Review: Contraband

Starring and produced by Mark Wahlberg, Contraband is a bit too contrived to be truly great. Nevertheless, it is an enjoyable crime thriller.

Former smuggler Chris Farraday is now running his own business to support his wife and two children. When his young brother-in-law gets into trouble with a local drug baron, Chris must step in to protect his family. Reluctant to return  to  his life of crime, Chris has little choice in raising funds quickly…

A remake of the 2008 Icelandic film Reykjavik-Rotterdam, and directed by the star of that film, Contraband is entertaining throughout, although not faultless. The film mixes elements of an action thriller with those of a crime caper. Every aspect of the film feeds into the grander scheme. The seemingly impossible is not actually so; clues are dropped along the way so viewers can guess how Chris will get out of his bind. No incident or mention is superfluous. This is a shame, as the film could have thrown viewers off with a few red herrings.

Contraband successfully sustains the viewer’s attention. Pacing in the film is good. Cutting to and fro from land to sea works well to heighten tension. Although some aspects of the film may be a little predictable, there is enough urgency to keep the audience hooked.

The characters that feature in Contraband are quite unoriginal. There are no great surprises, in terms of their motives. As the protagonist, Chris is simply the man trying to protect his family, albeit with some useful skills. This premise is universal, although some character innovation would have been gratefully received.

Performances in the film are fine overall. Mark Wahlberg does his usual tough guy schtick in a role similar to others he has played. Giovanni Ribisi plays Tim Briggs like a caricature, while Ben Foster delivers a good performance as Sebastian. The camera work and editing combine well. The visual style is very much what one would expect from this type of film.

Despite its overly-constructed narrative, Contraband should prove entertaining for most audiences.

Contraband Trailer

In what looks like a fairly typical tough guy role for him, Mark Wahlberg stars in Contraband. The film is about a former criminal who is forced back into running contraband in order to protect his family. From the looks of the trailer, the film seems to be a standard action thriller, possibly trashy but divertingly entertaining. Contraband, which also stars Kate Beckinsale and Giovanni Ribisi, is due for release on 16th March 2012.

The Empire Big Screen Diaries – Day 1

I love the smell of pastries in the morning.

Luckily for me, mini baked goods were bountiful in the press room of Empire Big Screen. The air was thick with the scent of pastries, coffee and journalists. Outside, queues of early-rising movie fans eagerly collected their tickets and discussed plans for the day ahead. The timetable for the day consisted of numerous events taking place at the same time, so choosing wisely was essential.

First up for me was the 20th Century Fox Showcase. I have a great affection for their current blockbuster Rise of the Planet of the Apes, so I was pretty eager to discover what treats lay in store. We were given 3D glasses as we entered the auditorium, an indication of what might be on show. Before any trailers or movie clips were shown, a short piece on directors who have worked with Fox was screened. A brief love letter to the company, George Lucas, Ridley Scott, James Cameron, Tim Burton and other prominent directors relayed their experiences directing under Fox. It was a fluff piece, but if I was in charge, I too would boast about being responsible for Alien, Edward Scissorhands, Say Anything and others. I would probably be really obnoxious, and flash up “We were responsible for Star Wars, bitches!”, but Fox have more class than me. Anyway, Fox followed this up with a short featurette on the effects used in Rise, then trailers for In Time, The Darkest Hour and Martha Marcy May Marlene. The first two are glossy thrillers, both with a sci-fi edge. The third was Fox Searchlight’s drama, which was screened at Cannes. The final item was a few short clips from Titanic, remastered in 3D for the April 2012 release. Some of the 3D was incredibly impressive, particularly Kate Winslet’s hat in her first appearance in the 1997 film.

Next up on the agenda was a wander around the exhibitors stalls, which featured all the big film companies, plus other things such as the animal actors stall. I was almost bowled over with excitement to see The Dark Knight Rises stall, until I saw it was just a bench and a television playing the teaser trailer. I don’t know what I was expecting really. Perhaps a Christian Bale meet and greet and the entire film being screened, because that would be plausible.

Our bellies enquired about feeding time, so lunch was the next order of business. We went to Nando’s, which was tasty. We managed to get one of the booths, which is always fun. My creamy mash was on point, and the chicken pitta went down a treat (in case you were interested in a review of the food).

The Universal Pictures Showcase took place in the early afternoon. In attendance were the screenwriter of Tinker Tailor Solider Spy, Peter Straughan, and producer Robyn Slovo. The pair introduced three exclusive clips from the film, explaining the context of each before they were screened. These were certainly successful in building anticipation for the film; it looks great from these small glimpses and I am not even au fait with the novel. Gary Oldman also recorded a message to the audience, which was a nice touch. Following this, a number of other trailers and clips were shown. First up was a video message from Seann William Scott from the set of American Reunion, the fourth American Pie film. Inexplicably no trailer for the film was shown, despite this introduction. The Raven trailer was screened, however, and it looks mighty interesting – a must see for Edgar Allen Poe enthusiasts. Trailers for The Change-Up, The Debt, Johnny English Reborn, Tower Heights, Battleship and The Thing were also shown. We were also lucky enough to get a world exclusive look at the trailer for upcoming thriller Contraband, starring Mark Wahlberg. Finally a trailer and some clips of Immortals were screened. The film, which is released in November, looks pretty gory, albeit in a cartoonish way.

After this, we headed upstairs to Cineworld for the Pint of Milk Live with Dominic Cooper. As we made our way up the escalator, we noticed Mr Cooper himself was shortly behind us. He was dressed very sharply, and I fleetingly pondered talking to him. Thankfully for all involved, I quickly decided against this. The only thing I would have come up with would be something akin to the very lame “I thought you were great in The Devil’s Double“, so I’m glad I didn’t embarrass myself. I don’t mix well with well-known folk. In the interview, Dominic was hilarious as he answered questions about the price of a pint of milk and other similarly frivolous topics. It was a very amusing session.

The next event, taking place in the same screen, was Writing The Inbetweeners. Iain Morris and Damon Beesley, writers of the television show and upcoming movie, answered questions. I am not the biggest fan of the show, but the pair made the session entertaining with their anecdotes about working with the cast on set and coming up with ideas. After the Q & A, audience-members were invited to ask questions. Both Iain and Damon were great guests, eager to discuss the film and happy to chat with fans afterwards.

Final event of the day for me was the Secret Screening. Ideas for the film had been floating around before, but nobody could or would confirm or deny. I was in receipt of a big clue shortly before the screening, thanks to some good timing. I overheard someone from the film company going into the screen carrying a Lionsgate bag. By our powers of deduction (that is to say, I checked this site on my phone), the options seem limited to Conan the Barbarian or Warrior. My esteemed fellow film writers and I seemed to veer towards Conan until someone astutely pointed out that we had not been given 3D glasses. After a short delay, we all settled down to watch Warrior. The film was good, and surprisingly powerful (review to follow).