By Colin Covert, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –
“Contraband” stars Mark Wahlberg as a reformed drug smuggler who must protect his family by transporting millions in counterfeit currency to pay off a psychotic killer played to the hilt (and beyond) by goateed, tattooed Giovanni Ribisi.
The film is a tense, well-scripted remake of the 2009 Icelandic thriller “Reykjavik-Rotterdam,” a fact worth noting because that film’s star, Baltasar Kormakur, directed the Hollywood makeover with extraordinary care. If you’re looking for a lesson on how to set up an international smuggling operation and slip shipping containers full of dirty goods past U.S. Customs officers undetected, this is the movie for you. It’s like an exciting police procedural turned on its head.
The new film sends Wahlberg’s tough, soulful ex-con from the urban grime of New Orleans to the outright squalor of Panama’s Canal Zone to pick up a pallet of “supernotes,” sophisticated counterfeit $100 bills that are almost undetectable. Both there and on the Louisiana home front where Wahlberg’s wife (Kate Beckinsale) seeks protection with his best friend (Ben Foster), things go nightmarishly wrong.
With its fractured cutting and darting camera, “Contraband” makes no concessions to lazy viewers. You’ll have to pedal fast to keep up, especially in the early chapters. The dark and dirty cinematography and half-overheard dialogue establish a moody, slow-boiling anxiety and require you to focus your attention. Even when you’re up to speed, the script keeps surprising you with how many of these dodgy characters have something to hide. Because the story is so well worked out you don’t feel like you’re watching congealed neo-noir leftovers, but something fresh and exciting.
As Wahlberg stumbles into each new level of hell, the handheld hysteria of the camerawork ratchets up. There’s a tense armored-car heist in Panama that’s almost an afterthought, but it’s filmed with such sadistic immediacy that you can’t protest. The movie keeps whipping you along. It’s an impressive piece of work, at once feverish and lucid.
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale, Giovanni Ribisi, Ben Foster
Directed by: Baltasar Kormakur
Rating: R for violence, pervasive language and brief drug use.