Synopsis – To protect his brother-in-law from a drug lord, a former smuggler heads to Panama to score millions of dollars in counterfeit bills – Contraband
Director – Baltasar Kormákur
Released – 2012
For fans of – Broken City, Runner Runner, Uncut Gems
Contraband is the kinda film that makes you wish studios hadn’t shied away from making mid-budget movies in the numbers they were prepared to do before the dominance of the superhero genre. With strong acting, solid direction, and striking cinematography that draws you into the vibrant cultures of both New Orleans and Panama, this is exactly what you want to see when you’re tired of watching $300m+ CGI-filled spectacle about aliens fighting caped crusaders or slowly progressing indie pieces.
Playing a man forced to return not the smuggling life he had tried to leave behind due, Mark Walberg is excellent as the lead character. Exuding charisma, you soon start to like his character and care about his attempts to get this nieve younger brother out of the hole he dug himself, though at times he along with the film did play it safe when it came to the emotional range.
Suporting Walberg is a strong cast. Giovanni’s Ribisi does well as the antagonist of the film, it’s clear he has a knack for playing truly untrustworthy and unlikeable characters, Ben Foster is excellent as Walberg’s former partner, a recovering addict and alcoholic ex-smuggling partner who struggles to stick to the straight and narrow. And, Kate Beckinsale is as to be expected, great as Walberg’s wife, though sadly the movie didn’t give her much to do other than worrying about the fates of her husband and brother (Caleb Landry Jones).
The director Baltasar Kormákur does a good job of steadily developing intensity throughout the film, even when the events are largely contained to the lower decks of a cargo ship. He finds a way to turn the methods modern-day smugglers turn to to get illegal items into the US, without it feeling overblown or unrealistic. If anything the smuggling aspect of the film takes a backseat to the human drama as the plot effortlessly switches between the three principal locations (New Orleans, Panama The Ship) as it builds towards its conclusion back on US soil.
Overall, Contraband is an entertaining action film that never takes itself too seriously that once again proves that not every film needs to be made with the hope of starting a franchise and 110 minutes is sufficient for telling a good/cohesive story that still feels fresh 10 years on.