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A movie directed by Baltasar Kormákur

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The Next Unoriginal Crime Thriller

  • Jan 14, 2012
Star Rating:

Reykjavik-Rotterdam was a 2009 Icelandic crime thriller that never received a wide release in the U.S., apart from a few screenings at film festivals. The star of the film, Baltasar Kormákur, now serves as the director and producer of its American remake, Contraband. On the basis of the end results, perhaps it isn’t always a good idea to let someone intimately familiar with a concept have a hand at bringing it to the big screen. The audience is typically the first to notice how unoriginal a film is; the problem with Contraband is that the cast and crew noticed how routine, clichéd, and predictable it was long before we did, and because they were aware, they could not generate any interest in the material. This is one of those rare action films that feels oddly detached and elicits boredom rather than excitement.
Taking place in New Orleans, it tells the story of Chris Farraday (Mark Wahlberg), a former smuggler who has since gone legit, gotten married, and had children. During his smuggling days, he was considered the best of the best; he now has made a name for himself as the owner and operator of a security business. Unfortunately, his young brother-in-law Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) is trying his hand at smuggling. When he screws up a drug delivery, it incurs the wrath of local crime lord Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi) and sets off a chain reaction that directly implicates Chris’ family. His wife, Kate (Kate Beckinsale), and two boys will receive a terrifying close call, namely Tim and his men breaking into their home, holding them at gunpoint, and threatening them before leaving. Perhaps this is the equivalent of, I don’t know, a warning shot.

Chris is forced to fix the situation by once again becoming a smuggler and finishing the job Andy started. We were initially led to believe he was forced back into it, although as the film progresses, it’s often suggested that he is in fact enjoying what he’s doing. One scene has him telling Andy in plain English that he loves it, and we’re challenged to determine whether or not he was being serious. That is, we’re challenged until the final scene, at which point it becomes fairly obvious what his true feelings are. I couldn’t help but feel disturbed by this, for he’s now a family man, and if there’s anyone who doesn’t deserve to be placed in harm’s way, it would be his wife and innocent children. The choice between family and a life of crime is a murky moral dilemma, and it’s pushed to the limits with the character of Tim, who has a child of his own – a daughter who looks no older than eight or nine.
Although he will increasingly seem at ease as a smuggler, Chris will repeatedly show concern for his wife and children, and will repeatedly call them throughout the film. He will even violently assault anyone who dares to threaten them in his presence. Kate and her children are placed under the protection of Chris’ best friend, Sebastian (Ben Foster), who sucks on a lollipop during most of his early scenes. Simultaneously, Chris and a group of men become seamen on a container ship bound for Panama City, where Chris will use every resource he can to collect a huge amount of cash. He refuses to take part in drug trafficking, which is curious given how it’s no more legal than what he is willing to do. Be that as it may, the captain of the ship (J.K. Simmons) has a serious beef with Chris – or, more precisely, Chris’ father, who’s now serving prison time.

Would it surprise you to learn that things don’t go according to plan? I will not describe the setbacks in detail; let it suffice to say that it’s just one thing after the other, as they tend to be in movies like this. As Chris finds himself pitted against a Panamanian crime boss (Diego Luna), a cantankerous sea captain, ruthless law enforcement, and time itself (or lack thereof), Kate will find herself in danger yet again. Chris will get wind of it, and naturally, it will drive him into an even greater panic. The entire last third of the film hinges on a plot twist so painfully predictable that it’s almost an anticlimax. If you don’t have even an idea of what will happen, you might be better off, for it means you haven’t seen as many crime thrillers as I have and therefore aren’t as familiar with their conventions.
Of course, a conventional film isn’t bad by default. The issue here is that Kormákur seems rather indifferent about the material; apart from the technically competent but viscerally lacking action scenes, he regards the characters as little more than one-note typecasts, and thusly directs the actors as such. Ribisi in particular is surprisingly bad, in large part because of an exaggerated accent that comes off as something off-center of a southern drawl. Wahlberg, while capable of expressing anger, shows little else in the way of emotional range. It’s almost as if he was genuinely disinterested in the role and in the film in general. Indeed, Contraband gives us little reason to care about what’s happening and why. I haven’t seen the Icelandic film on which it’s based, but it seems to me that certain films just don’t work as remakes, regardless of what language it’s in.


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January 18, 2012
Awwwww mannnn....I actually wanted to see this one. I was interested in seeing a film about a runner. Well, I guess I'll just wait til it's on cable. I didn't know it was based on another film. Nice write-up!
January 19, 2012
Thanks for the comment. I didn't know it was a remake either until I actually saw the film, where it's appropriately mentioned during the opening credits. I suppose I could rent the original and see which version is better, but to be perfectly honest, I'm not at all interested.
January 19, 2012
Its a remake of an Icelandic film. I saw it on Friday. It was not great, but not terrible. It was kind of what I expected. No surprises but some good fun for an action film.
January 19, 2012
Yeah, sounds like you're not missing much, Chris. I think I'll stay away from that one as well!
January 14, 2012
I think all in all, we have the same observations with this film. The one thing that differs from mine is that I rather enjoyed the ways Wahlberg and Ribisi relationship helped the film a little bit. This wasn't a bad movie at all, but just so darned predictable that I couldn't get invested in the story and characters. Well, Kate helped the experience for me....a little. :)
January 14, 2012
I just couldn't get into this story, and on the basis of the performances, the cast couldn't either. And you're so right about it being predictable. In terms of the twist (you know what I'm referring to), I saw that coming a mile away.
More Contraband reviews
review by . January 14, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
A Thrill-Ride On Some Levels On A Tired Genre....
I cannot believe sometimes how often movie remakes get made; I admit that some remakes have gotten better, and some have even surpassed the quality of the original. I wasn’t exactly expecting much with director Baltasar Kormakur’s remake of the 2009 Icelandic crime drama “Reykjavik-Rotterdam” called “Contraband”; and I didn’t get much out of it either. The film is pretty entertaining in its own way and is better than most standard action crime dramas; but …
review by . January 19, 2012
I just saw Contraband on Friday. When a movie poster shows Mark Wahlberg with a gun, lifting his shirt, exposing his stomach with dollar bills stuffed in the top of his pants you have to know what to expect. This isn't going to be any classic. So I went in knowing it was not going to be a great film. It also wasn't a really bad film either. It was just what I expected and very predictable. There are several plot twists as expected. The only bad thing is you saw them coming from a mile away …
review by . January 12, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
A former thief must commit one last job in order to look after and protect his family, coming out this week Mark Wahlberg stars in The Italian Job. Wait no, that knock off came out in 2003 and was based off a 1969 movie, this knock off is based off a 2008 Icelandic movie. Contraband is actually directed by the star of the original movie, so at least with a larger budget and the experience of working on the same story before the crew should be able to make a well done movie. At its …
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Chris Pandolfi ()
Ranked #5
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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