In a remake of 2008 Icelandic film Reykjavík-Rotterdam, an ex-smuggler, Chris Farraday, (Mark Wahlberg) comes out of retirement for one last run to protect his brother-in-law (Caleb Landry Jones) from a crime lord after a smuggling mission goes wrong.
As his wife (Kate Beckinsale) and children face increasingly violent threats from the criminals, John races against time to return several million dollars worth of fake cash to the US, in what is the biggest crime to take place in Panama since the canoe man of 2007.
Although there’s nothing here that’s particularly outstanding, Contraband is exciting and engaging from start to finish. The plot is substantial without becoming overcomplicated and overbearing, and contains enough twists to make this an enjoyable ride. It’s well-scripted and benefits from strong performances from the whole cast, with Giovanni Ribisi, of Avatar, Friends and My Name Is Earl, putting in an ever-reliable turn as seedy crime boss Tim Briggs.
It’s pretty well produced in a Hollywood kind of way. Aesthetically it’s fairly typical of big budget thrillers with action that is engaging if conventional. There are a couple of good car chase moments reminiscent of The Italian Job, and some fast paced shoot-outs as well as the odd boat crash.
The two pronged approach to storytelling works well, with Farraday fighting, shouting and smuggling his way through Panama, while his wife and children are at the mercy of Briggs and his cronies, as well as questionably-motivated friend Sebastian (Ben Foster), in the US. This gives Contraband plenty of tension, excitement and intrigue throughout.
The characters and plot are fairly believable, with committed performances making it an easy film to buy into. Kate Beckinsale’s Kate Farraday provides an emotional anchor for the film as her family, innocent of criminal involvement, is relentlessly harassed by ruthless criminals prepared to stop at nothing to get their share in the smuggle.
There are occasional moments of implausibility, and Farraday’s tendency to physically assault those who he disagrees with becomes tiring at times, but don’t let this hide the fact that Contraband is a well thought through thriller with enough energy and ingenuity to sustain momentum for the duration.
Contraband is pretty solid thriller fare, and a reasonable addition to the genre, with adequate shooting and plot twists and turns to keep it interesting. This, combined with a strong cast and a good script make it well worth a watch.