What I smuggled out of Contraband

I recently caught a late night showing of newcomer Baltasar Kormakur’s film, Contraband, on a whim. The marketing of this film hit Boston heavy, as I suspect every Mark Wahlberg film does as he and his brothers are hometown celebrities. However, when I first saw the posters, billboards and eventually the action-packed trailer, I had zero desire to see the movie. I am not a fan of gratuitous violence, male bravado, and scripts where the F-word is substituted for almost every adjective in the English dictionary…but there is something said for being spontaneous and ‘well-rounded’.

Contraband stars Mark Wahlberg who plays Chris Farraday, a famed smuggler who abandoned his illegal pursuits for domesticity. Instead of dodging bullets, evading police and earning the title of “Houdini” for his insane feats of concealment, Chris now spends his time with his two sons, his beautiful wife, Kate (Kate Beckinsale), his legitimate job in home security installation, and family outings to soccer games.  Unfortunately, his wife’s younger brother, Andy (Caleb Landry Jones), picked up the smuggling business where Chris left off, albeit with far less skill. Andy gets in over his head when a drug smuggling attempt for his boss, Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi) goes awry and he’s forced to dump the drugs. Terrified that her younger brother may be killed by the unforgiving Briggs, Kate agrees to let Chris help Andy by accompanying him on the next contraband run in order to pay Briggs back. Thus, with the help of his  imprisoned father (William Lucking) and his trusted friend, Sebastian (Ben Foster), Chris assembles a team and boards a freight boat for Panama with the goal of bringing back millions in counterfeit bills.

The overarching plot of Contraband is fairly predictable, however I have to admit that there are quite a few side elements that lend originality and humor. The main cast performs well, especially Mark Wahlberg who plays a role that he does best;  a bad-ass who’s ultimately a good-guy softee on the inside. The action sequences are jam-packed and well-filmed, although disappointingly, the ‘blurry zoom’ is still used for slow dialogue scenes and close-ups (a ‘ style technique’ I will never appreciate in non-documentary features).

What I found most interesting about Contraband is the film’s underlying value system –  Family is #1 in Contraband, a notion that is explicitly clear throughout the film and acts as the primary motivation for the main characters. Now, while this is a notion that is easy to understand and relate to (if someone threatened my younger brother I would go to war), the film takes what seems to be a noble cause (defending and protecting one’s family) and uses it as justification for horrific crimes – a morality swap that doesn’t sit well with me. Chris may be the protagonist but why is his family above the families of the men he kills, or the families whose lives will be negatively affected by the drugs and counterfeit money he illegally imports? Contraband offers a narrow view of one man’s glorified world and neglects to acknowledge the greater societal ramifications.

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