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The Independent Critic

Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale, Ben Foster, Giovanni Ribisi
Baltasar Kormakur
Aaron Guzikowski
Rated R
110 Mins.
Universal Pictures
Deleted Scenes; "Making of" Featurette; Stunts and Action Featurette; Audio Commentary

 "Contraband" Review 
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An American adaptation of a 2008 Nordic thriller called Reykjavik Rotterdam, Contraband is your standard issue action thriller with the notable exception that it's well cast enough to maintain consistent watchability and to be far more entertaining than you would ever expect.

Mark Wahlberg stars as Chris Farraday, a former smuggler turned family man who's forced back into the action when his wife's (Kate Beckinsale) baby brother (Caleb Landry Jones) becomes massively in debt to baddie Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi) after a smuggling job gone bad. Director Baltasar Kormakur starred in the Icelandic original, and while there's not an ounce of originality in the film there's an abundance of decent action and macho humor.

Contraband is the kind of film that's perfectly suited for Mark Wahlberg, one of the few actors who is at home in an action flick as he is in an arthouse flick. While Wahlberg has never been a brilliant actor, he's a consistently good one who over the years has challenged himself in a variety of genres and in films where you'd swear he'd fall flat on his face (and he occasionally has). This film offers Wahlberg the chance to flex his biceps and his emotions as Farraday, a buff kick-ass dude whose entire reason for re-entering his former profession is deemed noble because he's doing so to protect his family. That's the thing with Wahlberg ... he's completely believable as someone who would do just about whatever it takes to protect his family, and his performance here is both exciting to watch and emotionally resonant.

Wahlberg is teamed well with Kate Beckinsale as his wife. Beckinsale, of course, is also a bit of a kick-ass action star thanks to the Underworld films, a fact that does make her role here as a somewhat victimized wife seem like a bit of a stretch. That said, her personality fits with Wahlberg like a glove as both performers project a sort of simmering placidity in their demeanor.

In a rarity among action films, even the supporting players are well cast here. Massively underrated Giovanni Ribisi is awesome as Tim Briggs, a sort of cajun-speakin' psychotic whose every move elicits anxiety and dread. Ben Foster seems like he's always cast in this type of role, but that's likely because he's so darn good at 'em. Instead of your stereotypical good guy or bad guy, Foster does an excellent job of layering his performance with a remarkable depth of humanity. Terrific character actor J.K. Simmons is a hoot as the captain of the ship upon which Farraday decides to pull his heist, while Caleb Landry Jones joins Diego Luna and Lukas Haas in rounding out the better than usual cast for this type of cinematic fare.

The film is shot by The Hurt Locker's Barry Ackroyd, though one does wish Kormakur had opted for a bit less in the way of hand-held shots. Ackroyd does, however, lens the film with a grittiness that amplifies the action and heightens the suspense.

A far better option than last weekend's unexpected hit The Devil Inside, Contraband will no doubt please fans looking for an escapist experience or a decent action flick devoid of complicated storylines. For sure, Mark Wahlberg fans will be pleased as he serves up a humane hunk with a heart for his family.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic