Netflix UK film review: Contraband
James R | On 16, Apr 2014
Director: Baltasar Kormákur
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Giovanni Ribisi, Kate Beckingsale
Watch Contraband online in the UK: Netflix UK / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store / CHILI
101 Reykjavik. Jar City. Reykjavik-Rotterdam. Pick any of Iceland’s most acclaimed films in the last 10 years and you can bet that Baltasar Kormákur was involved somehow. Both as an actor and director, Baltasar has been a Nordic force to be reckoned with – so bringing him on board for this English remake of his 2008 smuggling thriller is pretty much the best decision Mark Wahlberg could have made.
Swapping alchohol for drugs and cash, Contraband’s cargo is a mixed bag: there’s the hard currency of Wahlberg, at the time fresh from his Oscar nomination for The Fighter, as gone-straight smuggler Chris Farraday. There’s the potent package of Kate Beckinsale and Caleb Landry Jones as Farraday’s troubled family. There’s also the soggy container full of limp one-last-job clichés and all-too-familiar villains.
Farraday’s forced back into the customs-dodging game when his younger brother loses a shipment of coke belonging to unhinged dealer Briggs (Ribisi). All squeaky voice and facial hair, Ribisi’s bad guy intimidates but never surprises, leaving the real drama to come from Ben Foster as Chris’ on-the-wagon best friend. But even his supporting role feels done before (hint: he owns a cement factory). It’s only once Beckingsale’s wife is allowed some wriggle room that you really start to feel any threat.
And yet Contraband remains a gripping trip across the border. Carefully planned and smartly executed, the central heist runs like clockwork – even the chaos of Diego Luna’s gangland war fits smoothly in place. It feels like a free-wheeling, sprawling set piece, but Baltasar keeps a tight hand on the rein, zooming out for the wow factor of massive boats and toppling crates and closing in for handheld shots of shootouts.
A mention must also go to J .K. Simmons, who almost steals the show as a moral (and heavily-moustached) captain, but Contraband’s grade-A cast only emphasises the ship’s predictably plotted course. A running joke about a Jackson Pollock painting (knowingly ignored in the Nordic original) is here highlighted with stereotypical American unsubtlety. Thank goodness, then, that Baltasar remembers to pack an extra crate of grit for the journey. Contraband is a cool ride from Iceland to the US.
Contraband is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.