Static Mass Rating: 2/5
Universal Pictures

Release date: March 16th, 2012
Certificate: 15
Running time: 109 minutes

Director: Baltasar Kormákur
Writer: Aaron Guzikowski

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Kate Beckinsale, Giovanni Ribisi, Caleb Landry Jones

I recently heard Mark Wahlberg described by a British journalist as being a ‘renaissance man’. I’m still trying to fathom this one out. One can only assume this smoke blowing comes from the fact that Wahlberg’s managed to cross the treacherous chasm between acting in films to producing them as well. Quite a leap into the unknown I’m sure you’ll agree; and quite how this bankable multi-millionaire movie star managed it is astonishing.

A renaissance man, indeed.

So is the movie industry any better off for having Wahlberg able to bank-roll his own flicks? Well, for the uninitiated amongst you, allow me to describe the trope of every Wahlberg film yet to be made


Chances are Wahlberg will give a one note performance as a guy trying to escape his ‘past’ – invariably giving the real life Wahlberg ample opportunity to remind us all of his bad-boy credentials in numerous press junkets first. Attempts to move on with his life will become thwarted by the actions of a tempestuous friend or family member, probably. Stuff will happen and Wahlberg will be required to revisit his past, all the while wearing an impossibly tight t-shirt and beating up a few people along the way.

There are no spoilers in what I’ve just said. No spoilers at all.

And this is pretty much how Contraband plays out. And seeing as Wahlberg seems to have hit his stride career wise, it’s unlikely he’ll deviate too much from this tried and tested formula.

In Contraband, he plays Chris Farraday – a reformed smuggler who, upon seeing the error of his ways decided to leave it all behind to become a household security alarm fitter. Why a household security alarm fitter? You might ask – my only answer would be that it allows for a nicely contrived plot development later in the film.

Regardless, we’re introduced to Chris Farraday living the life of suburban bliss in New Orleans along with his wife, Kate (Kate Beckinsale) and his throng of interchangeable children. All that awaits now is for a family member to screw things up. In the case of Contraband it comes in the form of brother-in-law Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) – himself an aspiring young smuggler who seems to have gotten himself into a spot of bother with the local drugs lord Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi). This arises when a bungled smuggling job results in Briggs’ latest order of nose candy getting dumped in the Caribbean.


Unsurprisingly Briggs isn’t too happy about this and it comes down to Wahlberg to sort things out, obviously.

True to form, Wahlberg is dragged back into the world of smuggling for ‘one last job’ in the hope of being able to clear Andy’s debt. With the assistance of friend Sebastian (Ben Foster), Wahlberg brings together his motley crew of smugglers to take to the seas once more in a bid to bring back some counterfeit banknotes from Panama City to New Orleans.

“Well, it ain’t no A-Team”, Wahlberg’s character says at one point. The audience collectively nod their heads in agreement. You ain’t wrong there, Mark.

A remake of 2008 Icelandic film Reykjavík-Rotterdam and directed by newcomer Baltasar Kormákur, who interestingly also played Wahlbergs character in the Icelandic version – this industry seems plagued by renaissance men! It also begs the question of whether Wahlberg will now have to direct his own version of this film elsewhere so as not to break the cycle or someone will die, ‘ring’ style purgatory.


Clearly it’s very easy to pick holes in this film, but it’s a film not without its charms. Surprisingly self-assured, Kormákur clearly knows what he’s doing behind a camera and if you’re comfortable watching a body count of faceless Latino drugs runners stack up, then you’ll enjoy some of the set pieces Contraband has on offer.

And, despite all that’s been said about Wahlberg, he does do this sort of thing rather well, albeit predictably well. Adorned again in his impossibly tight t-shirt he never hams up the role and seems comfortable letting the plot drive the film.

I only wish the same could be said about Giovanni Ribisi’s performance.

Admittedly a challenge to make any drugs lord called “Tim” seem threatening, Ribisi decides to go all out and consequently overshoots the mark. In fact, Ribisi’s New Orlean drugs lord is so over the top he wouldn’t seem out of place skipping around behind Captain Jack Sparrow in the next Pirates Of The Caribbean sequel.

Ribisi aside, there are some strong performances from the likes of Ben Foster and Kate Beckinsale who give the film their own brand of formulaic credence. It’s also refreshing to see New Orleans on screen and certainly anchors the film with some of the city’s own history.

About Toby C Prior

Toby C Prior

Having successfully dropped out of Art College after 3 gruelling months back in the 90’s; Toby used this experience to its best advantage - by becoming an Online Content & Communications Manager in London.

Toby is still very much involved in the arts, and exercises his artistic demons by reviewing most of the good, bad and downright ugly that passes through London’s galleries and movie theatres.

Although a film enthusiast by heart, Toby also cites himself as being an ‘expert’ on the delta blues and is proudly credited as the musical force behind ill-fated schoolboy band The Pilgrims of Grace — “we were too good, too soon”. You can find Toby on Twitter @2by.