CONTRABAND. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale, Ben Foster, Giovanni Ribisi, David O’Hara, Diego Luna, J.K. Simmmons. Directed by Baltasar Kormakur. Rated MA 15+ (Strong coarse language and violence). 110 minutes.

Gritty is one of the words that a reviewer might grope for while watching Contraband.  The story is gritty.  The characters are gritty – and not easy to sympathise with.  Most of them have had difficult lives, and where we catch up with them life is certainly not any easier.

The setting is New Orleans, especially the waterfront (and without the tourist glamour).  Much of the action is at sea.  There is a visit to Panama City (which looks quite up-to-date).

Most of the characters are involved in contraband, one way or another.  A young man gets himself and his friend into trouble by dropping smuggled drugs into the sea when they are pursued by the authorities. Their dealer (Giovanni Ribisi at his most repellent) not only wants compensation, he uses the incident to force, the older brother of the rash young man to resume what he used to do before he married and had a family.  This is not only dangerous in terms of contraband and detection, but there are, of course, shady characters, violent characters, who actions are unpredictable except for their nastiness.  Gritty.

The story and the action, the threats and the violence, are all up to expectations.  The film is a re-make of an Icelandic film of 2008, Reykjavik-Rotterdam, and it is directed by award-winning Icelandic director and actor, Baltasar Kormakur (Jar City, A Little Trip to Heaven) who took the lead in Reykjavik-Rotterdam.  Perhaps that is why it seems tougher (and grittier) than the US equivalent.

Mark Wahlberg can do this kind of role without effort.  Kate Beckinsale is his wife (and becomes victimized more than we might have anticipated). Working class people for whom life can always be a struggle (except when you have an ending like the one here with who gets away with what!).  Lurking in a sinister way is Ben Foster who seems to be making a career of playing really unpleasant villains (The Mechanic, 3:10 to Yuma). J.K. Simmons is the captain of the ship carrying not only drugs but counterfeit cash from Panama as well.

It is all done very efficiently, but it is a dark kind of action show.

Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.


Out February 23, 2012.

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