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.

Film Review: The Rum Diary

The Rum Diary boasts some great performances, wonderful locations and fabulous costuming. Unfortunately, the film also suffers from lacklustre direction, making it really rather dull.

American writer Paul Kemp takes a job at a newspaper in Puerto Rico in 1960. His colleagues are jaded, with some more interested in consuming rum above anything else. Paul begins to see the gulf between the local way of life and the wealthy foreigners who frequent the paradise island…

Based on Hunter S. Thompson’s novel, The Rum Diary attempts to capture the mood of a certain era and a certain group of individuals. It is partially successful; the film generates an exoticness that will be unfamiliar to many. However, the film lacks a sense of authenticity. The scenes in the film that are meant to be absurd or somewhat wild never really pull the audience in. Perhaps the problem is that The Rum Diary loses its viewers before it gets to this point.

Bruce Robinson’s direction is stilted. The more active sequences do not grab the attention in the way they are supposed to. There is a distinct lack of energy to the whole film. In one sense, the film takes a laid-back style, with the plot slowly being revealed. Nevertheless, without strong direction or purpose, the film quickly becomes dull, and never really recovers.

The narrative can be reduced to a fairly simple good guys versus bad guys structure, with the audience identifying with Kemp’s point of view as the newcomer. Characters are depicted in polemical terms, with the almost caricature wealthy investors and the sidelined locals who get no viewpoint of their own. There is nothing particularly illuminating about the narrative, nor anything that entertaining.

Johnny Depp is good for the most part as Paul Kemp. In a few of the scenes, his mannerisms are over the top, which appear at odds with the character. Aaron Eckhart is solid as Sanderson, while Giovanni Ribisi is excellent as the eccentric Moberg. Amber Heard is appropriately cast as Chenault, a role requiring little else but looking pretty.

Colleen Atwood’s costuming is great, particularly Chenault’s wardrobe. Production values in The Rum Diary are good, though not much about the film stands out, visually-speaking. The film’s very fatal flaw is that it is boring; viewers are unlikely to recommend The Rum Diary to others.

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.