In Contraband, Mark Wahlberg carries the nickname Houdini. In what could have been a standard “one last job” action movie, Wahlberg’s latest moves like a speedboat and carries twists and turns that tribute the Icelandic film that it is based on, Reykjavik-Rotterdam. Contraband is directed by Baltasar Kormakur, the man who starred in the original. As such, he inherently knows what buttons to push for the audience to send us into a thrilling frenzy.
Wahlberg is Chris Farraday, no relation to Lost’s Daniel with a slightly different last name spelling. But what the characters share is blindingly upfront. Each possesses the ability to look at a landscape and efficiently reach a conclusion that is the path that must be followed. Contraband's Farraday is happily married with two boys, retired from a life as one of the world’s best smugglers. When his wife’s (Kate Beckinsale) brother is essentially held under ransom, Wahlberg must cut to the chase and amass the massive amount of money needed to free family, and that is through moving Contraband.
The “one last job” method of storytelling has been utilized hundreds, if not thousands of times throughout movie history. How Kormakur manages to avoid stereotypes and bring surprises at every turn is twofold: His cast delivers in their roles and the film’s twists arrive covertly… much like Wahlberg, who disappears into his character.
Some may recall The Italian Job from Wahlberg’s performance. I can see it, but where Wahlberg sets his performance in Contraband apart is in a fierceness coupled with command of character that has been building for two decades from the actor (check out our Top 10 Mark Wahlberg movies). He manages to show layers to his Chris Farraday who is equally family man worried about his kin’s safety, world class smuggler moving in a world he rules and cunning adversary to anyone who crosses his path.
Beckinsale, soon to be seen in Underworld Awakening, plays the concerned wife well who is thrown into chaos by extenuating circumstances. We wish there was more to her screen time, but this movie is not about Kate Farraday. She is merely a spoke in the wheel of suspense that in Contraband is cruising at top speed.
What else amazes is the use of New Orleans as a character. Katrina is never spoken of or shown in any way, yet filmmakers have captured a city that has been knocked down and is still fighting its way back. Much as Chris Farraday wants to continue his legit existence, when a tidal wave in the form of Giovanni Ribisi’s baddie Tim Briggs hits his family hard on a multitude of levels, his fight is our fight. And in the hands of Wahlberg, we are down for the battle.
The actual star of Contraband is Ben Foster. His Sebastian Abney is a complex fellow. Foster peels off the onion layers of his character’s existence in such a manner that there is no way to predict which side of the coin he will land on by film’s end. He steals every scene he’s in, whether opposite Wahlberg, Beckinsale or Ribisi -- all capable of acting fireworks -- and serves as the icing on the cake that is Contraband.