Wednesday, 11 January 2012


Contraband [Review]

Opinion: B

Seen more as an adaptation of the Icelandic original, this English speaking take by Baltasar Kormákur harnessed the thrills and tried well to suppress implausibilities within the film. At times raw and real, there were a couple of moments when the script betrayed the plausibility. Much would not have been accomplished if not for some credible cast performance by the likes of antagonist Giovanni Ribisi.


Mark Wahlberg leads the cast of Contraband, a fast-paced thriller about a man trying to stay out of a world he worked so hard to leave behind and the family he’ll do anything to protect. Set in New Orleans, the film explores the cutthroat underground world of international smuggling—full of desperate criminals and corrupt officials, high-stakes and big payoffs—where loyalty rarely exists and death is one wrong turn away.

Chris Farraday (Wahlberg) long ago abandoned his life of crime, but after his brother-in-law, Andy (Caleb Landry Jones), botches a drug deal for his ruthless boss, Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi), Chris is forced back into doing what he does best—running contraband—to settle Andy’s debt. Chris is a legendary smuggler and quickly assembles a crew with the help of his best friend, Sebastian (Ben Foster), to head to Panama and return with millions in counterfeit bills.

Things quickly fall apart and with only hours to reach the cash, Chris must use his rusty skills to successfully navigate a treacherous criminal network of brutal drug lords, cops and hit men before his wife, Kate (Kate Beckinsale), and sons become their target.


Based upon the Icelandic original "Reykjavik: Rotterdam" which starred Baltasar Kormákur, it was really an interesting delight to see him helming Contraband as a Director. It might reflect something about him, but one thing for certain would be his dedication and attachment to the original film material.

Convinced that the story would be universal, Contraband was set in New Orleans where one gets to see a lot of port and harbour views as well as shipping activities. Felt relatively relevant to the theme of smuggling as activity levels were high in that region of the world. It's probably one of the few action heist-thrillers that shot a lot of scenes onboard vessels from the deck to the engine room. If one's not sure, one might even mistaken the film to be one revolving around a maritime theme.

It was almost like a character by itself in the film.

Lensing onboard vessels would mean one thing: restrictive and tedious camerawork and shot planning. While you might get some great angles onboard the ship, the tight layout space may prove to be a challenge and kudos to Cinematographer Barry Ackroyd (who also photographed The Hurt Locker and United 93).

This might explain the raw sense of feeling we get from the visuals, with frequent fleeting camera movements shot handheld. Here, the motion was much refined and restraint and not wildly abused like in the case of The Green Zone, which was also lensed by Ackroyd. Footage was raw but the images remained relatively clean as one would expect grainy visuals from this film.

Also, there was a brief high frame rate explosion sequence that reminded me of The Hurt Locker.

(Exclusive "Behind-the-Scenes" by Mark Wahlberg)

That sequence also happened to be taking place within one of the major action scene: An armoured car heist. Without much extravagence, the entire scene went through with it as any real armoured car heist by lawless syndicates would be like - simple and quick. Often, the best method wasn't to display one's tactical intelligence, but by simply getting in and out as fast as one could.

Fight violence in the film did not saturate the film (wish there could be more of Wahlberg kicking ass though), but it was adequate to display brutality in some of the characters. One fine example would be the brilliant antagonist Tim Briggs (played by Giovanni Ribisi). You might recall him from Avatar (if you can't recall his presence in James Cameron's film, that showed his versatility to display contrasting personalities). Ribisi not only rendered vile physical acting, but also exuded intense chilling and sinister vibes.

One thing for sure, I'd never want to find myself anywhere within a mile's radius of Briggs.

While probably not well-liked by the audience, the character of Sebastian Abney (Ben Foster) reflected a lot of us in society who always seemed to boast a disturbing neutral stance towards everyone and everything. Although he seemed pleasantly likeable in the beginning, it gave me the creeps to think of several others around me who seemed to resemble Sebastian. His lack of a firm legion and position seemed to suggest that nothing would be considered on the basis of right or wrong in his life.

There's a couple of scripted plot holes and implausibilities (such as the timely realisation to intercept a certain demise), which was also often filled with one/two liners instead of great memorable dialogues.

Despite so, Contraband would be a good genre offering for all fans of action heist-thrillers with credits to the technical excellence practiced by the likes of Director Kormákur (who tried to craft the film as realistic as possible) and Director of Photography Ackroyd.

(Preview screening courtesy of UIP Singapore and

1 comment:

  1. Terrific review. This is one that has just come on my radar recently and I am looking forward to seeing it. Hopefully I can make it into the theaters, but I'm more focused on Haywire.


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