What it's about:

Chris Farraday (Mark Wahlberg) was once a first-rate smuggler, but he gave it all up to go legit and start a family with his wife Kate (Kate Beckinsale). When Kate’s younger brother gets into trouble with a local drug dealer, Chris heads off to Panama for one last job to bail his brother-in-law out.

What we thought:

There's one reason I was keen to review this movie: Mark Wahlberg. Of course it's got something to do with those Calvin Klein ads of yesteryear, but he always seems to pull of his roles with exceptional ease.

Contraband makes use of Wahlberg's natural badboy streak and he's totally convincing as a family man who's trying to do the right thing while yearning for the thrill, danger and satisfaction of pulling off a job that requires him to smuggle counterfeit bills from Panama back into the US.

This inner struggle is mirrored in the fast-changing moods in the film which are used to plot the progression of the story.

Contraband requires the audience to be present and concentrate. There aren't many flashy, high-octane scenes, and a lot of the story goes down on an unglamorous container ship.

When Chris’s brother-in-law Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) botches a drug deal, there’s a real fear that drug boss Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi) is going to kill him. Chris assembles a dream team – a much less glamorous Ocean's 11 – to help him move millions of dollars into the country on a container ship in order to settle Andy’s debt to Briggs.

Chris's wife Kate (played by Kate Beckinsale) plays a connective role, pulling many of the characters together, but she has one facial expression throughout the entire film.

I can't decide whether the role did Kate Beckinsale a disservice or if it was the other way around. But what is a bad boy without a pretty girl to fight for, hey? Her character is perfectly perfunctory. 

Giovanni Ribisi transforms into a greasy, positively frightening character as Briggs. He even adopted a snake-like quality in his pronunciation to add to the drama.

The delightful Diego Luna pops up halfway through the movie as a young trigger-happy gang leader whose ego is slightly too big for his getaway car. The cast is rounded out with the likes of Lukas Haas, Ben Foster (Alpha Dog, The Mechanic) and JK Simmons (Juno, Law & Order).

Apart from the largely outstanding cast, the plot twists are finely tuned to be surprising yet not confusing, and those are the two elements which salvage Contraband from the wreck of predictable movies. 

Contraband's superb casting and its matte finish make it a fine way to spend two hours munching popcorn.
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