Mark Wahlberg is Chris Farraday, a blue-collar family man forced to return to the smuggling racket when his brother-in-law botches a drug deal for Giovanni Ribisi’s twitchy kingpin.
Leaving wife Kate Beckinsale under the care of best mate Sebastian (Ben Foster), Farraday assembles his old, trusted team and gets himself aboard captain J.K. Simmons’ container vessel from New Orleans to Panama.
They plan to return with counterfeit bills, but also wind up loaded down with coke and a Jackson Pollack worth tens of millions. A US remake of 2008 Icelandic-thriller Reykjavik-Rotterdam, Contraband is directed by that film’s star, Baltaser Kormákur, and – protected by producer Wahlberg – he makes a point of eschewing Hollywood thrills.
OK , so the set-up is stock, as a good man is drawn back for ‘One Last Job’, but Kormákur’s more interested in bringing verisimilitude to the dockyard environment and desperation to the characters’ home lives than serving up helicopter shots, gunplay and pretty explosions.
Here, the sweatiest suspense oozes from a scene involving a panel being screwed back into place before J.K. Simmons’ hardass gets wind of the storage space behind. Wahlberg, as ever in this kind of role, acts as the anchor, his pecs ’n’ propriety routine allowing Foster to flex and Ribisi to roar.
Amid all the grain and grit, Ribisi’s colourful villain is as splashy as any Pollack painting, and his unhinged, ratty turn adrenalises the picture. Beckinsale, meanwhile, holds her own as the wife, and still looks a million dollars despite leaving the make-up bag at home.
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Don’t expect glamorous outlaws, sunny locales and exotic masterplans – this low-key thriller lifts the rusted lid off an all-too-real world of despairing criminality.