Saturday, January 14, 2012


I have received a couple of comments from readers complaining that I seem to like every movie about which I write.  I can’t really disagree.  There are reasons for this, though.  One, I only go see movies I want to see, therefore there is a better chance I will like it.  As of now, I am not getting paid to be a professional movie critic.  I do it because I love movies and I like writing about them.  Now, if someone wants to start paying me a stipend to do what I am doing then that would be great.  I would start watching more movies, including those I have little interest in, and I would more likely write a few more negatively tilted reviews.  Secondly, I try to watch movies for their entertainment value and not their technical or critical value.  I try to write my reviews as a movie fan, not as a critic.

It was only a little less than a year ago I wrote how upset I was about the quality of films Hollywood was churning out.  Many of them had very little quality entertainment value and many were hardly worth watching.  Film makers were flooding the theaters with crappy 3D versions of movies not even filmed for 3D and charging us extra for the privilege.  While those movies are still appearing, the 3D fad seems to be slowly.  I must ask, though – who wants to were those heavy 3D for three and a half hours for the re-released 3D Titianic?  Not me.  I have seen a string of movies over the past six months that give me hope for Hollywood.  I think there have been more really decent movies in those past few months than were released in the past two or three years.

I digress.  I really wanted to see Contraband and thought it would be good.  It turned out to be a lot different than I anticipated and even better than I thought it would be.  Marky Mark Wahlberg has really turned out to be one of my favorite actors and I really like many of his films.  He is really a strong leading actor in dramatic roles as well as believable as an action star.  He does not disappoint in Contraband.

Wahlberg plays a self rehabilitating smuggler who is trying to stay legitimate for the sake of his young family.  His idiot brother-in-law gets himself in a pickle with some local drug running baddies and Chris (Wahlberg) returns to his former life to fix the situation, which has bled over to involve his own family.

Most of the meat of the film takes places on a ship and in Panama as Chris sets in motion a plan to smuggle $15 million in high end, top quality counterfeit bills.  The plan unravels in many places and his family back in New Orleans is threatened by the sinister gangsters.  The movie is filled with subtle twists and turns, deceit and betrayals, as Chris and his crew work to overcome the obstacles that arise at every turn.

Director Baltasar Kormakur does a great job keeping the action under control, using the situations to build suspense, and then dispensing the action judiciously.  This film is more of a dramatic thriller with great characters than a straight action flick and it works beautifully.  The plot itself isn’t all that strong or original but the directing and acting pushes the film past that small weakness.

Wahlberg is at his best and the brilliant Giovanni Ribisi was terrific, as always.  I was a little disappointed in Ben Foster, who was somewhat flat for the first half of the movie but delivered nicely in the second half.  I wish Kormakur would have used Kate Beckinsale a little more.  I think there was a missed opportunity late in the film to let her shine and the director didn’t take full advantage.  J. K. Simmons and Lukas Haas (it has been a very long time since Witness) take full advantage of their supporting roles. 

The film had its weaknesses but its strengths certainly overwhelmed those weak parts.  Wahlberg’s Chris is an imperfect character but he was easy to sympathize with and to cheer for.  The pace was not break neck by any means but it did not dawdle or get stuck at any point.  The movie features a deep, talented cast who deliver in most instances.  It is rated R for violence and language.  Most, but significantly not all, of the surprises help keep us on our toes and waiting to see what happens next.  If you like thrillers with a very good dose of character and action, you will certainly be entertained with Contraband.

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