Monday, January 16, 2012

Devon #10 = Contraband

What happens when you take a critically successful Icelandic film and have its lead actor direct an American remake starring Mark Wahlberg? Not a whole lot.

Contraband has a lot of things going for it. It has a realistic and non ironically gritty tone, caused by its characters feeling like normal, immoral, bland criminals (but in a good way) and a plot that keeps to real world logic... for a while anyways. Marky Mark's (sorry, I had to) character is just trying to repay a debt that his semi-scumbag brother in law owes to a mobster. Said mobster, played by a wonderfully cast Giovanni Ribisi, is a very well written character, with a back story that is left to the viewer to figure out on their own. He is scary, yet still clearly a weak man, which adds a sad reality to him. The film subtly foreshadows its major twist and second villain very early on, showing a cleverness that most action movies lack.In fact, the whole thing could really be called a thinking mans gritty action flick... again, for a while. The main characters heist only requires them to be creative in hiding the, uh, contraband, while all the action occurs around them. They are merely passive observers. These really are interesting elements that could lead to a unique film. But then the third act hits.

The main problem here is the massive change in tone. Before the last twenty minutes, Contraband is a dark film with families being threatened and hurt, and drugs and crime rampant. Hell, one major player is beaten, threatened, and almost raped, all done viscerally and simply because they were in the wrong place. But than suddenly Wahlberg turns into McGuyver, the bad guys get their comeuppance, and the day is saved. Things lose all semblance of reality. And, in the final plot twist... well I wont ruin it, but it's hilarious. Completely screws with the tone of things, but hilarious, given the setup, and would have worked completely in a less serious heist film like Oceans 11. If things were changed around, if the hero didn't save the day, if the movie had gone all the way with showing that crime doesn't pay, I would have loved it. The tone would have stayed dark and gritty, and reached a violent, haunting crescendo to make Contraband something more than typical Hollywood fare. Its the sudden lack of momentum caused by this tonal shift that kills the credibility of the film, making what could have been a dark, purposeful tale into an unrealistic, dumbed down piece of Hollywood schlock.

This film is like Frankenstein's monster, an old movie resurrected from the dead, and stitched together from different styles. It was so close to being great. I would not recommend it, unless you are a big fan of heist flicks and want to see something a little different (save for the last act), then it might be worth your twelve bucks. Otherwise, this is one to skip.

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