Combustible Celluloid
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With: Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale, Ben Foster, Lukas Haas, Giovanni Ribisi, J.K. Simmons, Diego Luna, Caleb Landry Jones, Kevin 'Lucky' Johnson, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson
Written by: Aaron Guzikowski, based on a screenplay by Arnaldur Indrioason, Óskar Jónasson
Directed by: Baltasar Kormákur
MPAA Rating: R for violence, pervasive language and brief drug use
Running Time: 110
Date: 01/12/2012

Contraband (2012)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Smuggler's Blues

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The plotline in Contraband -- a remake of a 2008 Icelandic thriller -- is pretty creaky, but the execution, by Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur (101 Reykjavik), is scrappy and alive.

In New Orleans, Chris Farraday (Mark Wahlberg) is a brilliant former smuggler that has gone straight for the sake of his wife (Kate Beckinsale) and his two sons. But when his wife's younger brother (Caleb Landry Jones) gets himself in trouble with a local thug (Giovanni Ribisi), Chris must go back into business with his best friend Sebastian (Ben Foster). Their plan is to ship out to Panama, pick up a huge, truck-sized pile of counterfeit bills (Chris refuses to smuggle drugs) and bring it back. Unfortunately absolutely everything goes wrong, from bad bills, to a temperamental drug lord (Diego Luna), and a betrayal.

The movie begins at ground level, with a real urban, working class feel around Chris; it's similar in this regard to the atmosphere of The Fighter. (Perhaps Wahlberg, as a producer, has some say in the way his character is portrayed?) Using this as a basis, Baltasar very simply keeps raising the stakes.

The story grows more and more absurd, but each new wrinkle generates even more suspense. Baltasar isn't particularly good at subtle things, like revealing a secret twist or creating a moment of discovery, and the action could have been cleaner and sharper, but most of the movie is based around big events and these are very satisfying. It's more about guts than brains, and generating supreme tension. The high quality cast also includes J.K. Simmons as a cranky ship's captain and Lukas Haas as a nervous helper.
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