Pleasantly surprising crime thriller continues Mark Wahlberg's recent run of good form.

9th March 2012 in Mark Wahlberg, Contraband, Reviews / By Sam Faulkner / Rating: 3.5/5

A remake of sorts of the Icelandic smuggling thriller Reykjavik-Rotterdam, Contraband stars Mark Walhberg as Chris Farraday, a legendary retired smuggler who is forced into the familiar “one last job” scenario in order to get his hapless brother-in-law out of a tight spot with a local mobster (Giovanni Ribisi). The stage is set for a solidly familiar action thriller, but what results is actually one of the pleasant surprises of 2012 so far.

The cast are great, being led by Wahlberg, an intense leading man who is so often better than the films he chooses. He is given a charismatically rougish role which allows him to crack wise once or twice, whilst still getting the chance to flex his muscles and dish out a few punches. Kate Beckinsale takes a fairly cookie cutter “worried wife” character and does a good job with it, and while she does little that is particularly new with the role, she does it well. The real plaudits have to be dished out to the edgier characters, though, with Ribisi in particular undergoing an unsettling transformation to play a dangerous, threatening villain. Elsewhere, Ben Foster is Farraday’s cool and reliable partner-in-crime, and Diego Luna pops up as a gleefully unhinged crime lord. Honourable mention must also go to the always fun J.K Simmons as a foul-mouthed ship’s captain.

The heist scenes are of course the most interesting, but the first few do leave a lot to be desired. The schemes Farraday and friends come up with are certainly clever, but less quick shots of the team performing ambiguous tasks and more intricate sequences detailing their plans would have been a far more interesting approach. The film shakes this off in the second half, showing us just why the protagonist is considered such a master in his field. Sprinkling these with a couple of standout action scenes, including a vertigo-inducing moment on a crane-bound packing crate, they give the film a charisma which manages to keeps the plot compelling.

A nagging feeling through much of Contraband is that the film is in need of a sense of humour. The first two thirds take a rather too “gritty” tone with occasional outbursts of violence which no doubt set up the central story, but lack crowd-pleasing moments. Happily, the final act finds its groove as a crime thriller, introducing a cheeky swagger which will induce wide grins as the characters’ plans become clear.

A great cast playing out an intriguingly poised story, Contraband is a solid if unremarkable experience for its early stages, before finding its wings towards the end, propelled by its characters into becoming a far more fun film than it initially promises to be. With this, The Fighter and The Other Guys in recent years, it looks as though Wahlberg may finally be picking scripts worth his ability, which is certainly no bad thing.