Set in the surprisingly untapped world of dockyards and smuggling, Contraband is essentially just another ‘one last job’ film that we’ve all seen before. A remake of Icelandic thriller Reykjavik-Rotterdam, the film stars Mark Wahlberg as Chris Farraday, a legendary smuggler who’s gone straight and lives out in the suburbs with wife Kate (Kate Beckinsale) and their two kids.
Chris’ peaceful retirement is rudely interrupted when a smuggling job goes wrong and Kate’s brother Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) lands in some deep trouble with local drug smugglers lead by Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi). With Andy owing Briggs a substantial debt, Chris gets involved and assembles his old crew for his comeback job, smuggling counterfeit bills from Panama, while leaving best buddy and former partner in crime Sebastian (Ben Foster) to look after his family.
In shifting the action from Iceland to the New Orleans docks, director Balthasar Kormakur (star of the original) has a colourful backdrop for the film as well as sprawling sets that give the impression the film cost a lot more than it’s relatively modest $30 million budget. Curiously – and thankfully – most of the actors avoid attempting a ‘N’awlins’ accent though a couple do, most notably Giovanni Ribisi who gives the kind of mugging, over egged performance that someone really should’ve reigned in.
Not so offensive to watch is Mark Wahlberg, a solid and dependable screen presence who’s instantly identifiable and easy to root for, despite Chris’ criminal past. As recovering alcoholic Sebastian, Ben Foster is also impressive. Though outwardly straight and reliable, Foster hints at something shady going on beneath the surface with a subtlety lacking in the script, which continually drops in signs of his upwardly mobile lifestyle in the form of his mid-makeover apartment.
With a few Icelandic features behind him, Kormakur makes the leap to Hollywood fairly effectively. Using a lot of fast cuts and shaky cam, he maintains a jittery, nervous tone throughout while keeping the action moving at a brisk enough pace to avoid any lag. The most entertaining segment of the film comes during the crew’s stop off in Panama to collect the counterfeit money. Kormakur ramps up the tension here as Chris and accomplice Danny (Lukas Haas) have to procure the bills and make it back to the ship before it leaves for New Orleans. Their plan inevitably hits a snag when they encounter loose-cannon drug dealer Gonzalo (an excellent Diego Luna) and find themselves in the midst of a botched robbery.
The film’s ending is packed with a few too many big contrivances but seems to fit and provides a satisfactory outcome for each character, wrapping everything up neatly. Though Kormakur and Wahlberg provide sufficient tension and thrills throughout, Contraband is still a fairly run of the mill, predictable thriller. There’s nothing really bad here – other than maybe Ribisi’s performance – but also nothing particularly memorable either, leaving a film that’s a steady, workmanlike genre film that’s a fun watch at the time but the lack of invention of panache make it ultimately forgettable fare.