Mark Wahlberg (The Fighter) has got to be one of the coolest actors around. His career has only gotten better over the years, and I’ve always been a fan. I think the first movie I remember seeing him in was Fear, and he showed flashes of greatness even back then. He’s been nominated for an Academy Award, and I hope one day he’ll take one home. He’s demonstrated that he can do more than play the tough guy, but that’s one of the roles in which he excels.
In Contraband he portrays a tough guy but a family man, a reluctant hero thrust into a situation beyond his control. He stars as Chris Farraday, a reformed smuggler of illegal contraband. Chris has gone straight, and is now the owner of a small home security company. With his wife Kate (Kate Beckinsale, Underworld: Awakening) and two sons, he has carved out a nice normal existence. That safe haven is threatened when his wife’s little brother Andy (Caleb Jones, X-Men: First Class) gets himself in trouble with local drug dealer and scumbag Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi, The Rum Diary). He was transporting cocaine on a cargo ship when it was busted by border patrol and he had to dump the product in the water. Instead of chalking up the loss to the cost of doing business, Briggs will extract his debt in blood. In an effort to save Andy’s life, Chris assumes the debt. The only way he can repay what Andy owes is by agreeing to do a smuggling job for Briggs. His best friend Sebastien (Ben Foster, The Mechanic) helps arrange the job and also keeps an eye on Kate and the boys while Chris is gone.
Contraband was successful because of its straightforward plot and relatable performances. Even though the average person will never find themselves thrust into such a dangerous situation, there are few forces more powerful than self-preservation and the need to protect one’s family. Initially Chris is focused on saving the life of his brother-in-law, but eventually his wife and children become the object of Briggs’ vengeful rage. As a viewer, I never doubted Wahlberg’s resolve. Maybe it was his blue-collar Boston roots shining through that made the performance so believable. Additionally, he and Kate Beckinsale had great chemistry and their performances were delivered with remarkable realism, particularly Kate’s frustration with her brother. Sometimes your family puts you in the worst position, but you never turn your back on them. Beckinsale, Jones, and Wahlberg captured the unconditional love that characterizes the bond between family.
It looks like the movie will end up being #1 at the box office, and I think it’s a worthy entrant at that position, though it will probably be a short-lived stay at the top. It wasn’t a terribly original movie, but that’s ok. I mean, we’ve seen the overall plot of man saving his family about a million times, but Contraband was exciting and intense and kept me on the edge of my seat. You really can’t ask for much more from a thriller. I particularly enjoyed the clever way Chris managed to evade authorities while loading the contraband on the boat. A lot of movies falter at the halfway point, but writer Aaron Guzikowski crafted a storyline that started strong and maintained its intensity throughout. Contraband had a throwback B-movie vibe that ultimately proved successful, and it’s definitely worth checking out.
This article first appeared at Poptimal at http://poptimal.com/2012/01/contraband-review-wahlberg-brings-it-in-his-latest/ on Contraband’s opening weekend, and was reprinted with permission.