17 01 2012

Movies about smuggling are rare. While organized crime is a popular topic for moviemakers, the act of sneaking goods around customs and border patrol agents has not received the same treatment.

Contraband changes that. Starring Mark Wahlberg as smuggler-turned-family-man Chris Farraday, it’s a gritty look into the world of organized international crime. Yes, it has its faults, but as far as action thrillers go, it’s surprisingly gripping.

Chris Farraday is trying really hard to give up crime. After being a successful smuggler for years, he now runs a legitimate home security business. He has a loving wife and two kids, and he’s happy.


Things don’t stay that way for long. His wife’s younger brother, Andy, is still smuggling drugs to make ends meet, and when he botches a job – leaving nearly a million dollars’ worth of cocaine at the bottom of the ocean – the leader of the smuggling operation threatens to kill him and his family.

Farraday steps in and makes a deal: if he can pay back the debt within two weeks, Andy’s debt will be forgiven and nobody gets hurt. Making that much money within two weeks isn’t easy in the home security business, so Farraday decides to pull one final smuggling run.

Contraband takes place in New Orleans and Panama, as well as on cargo freighters somewhere in between. The setting doesn’t play a huge role, although there are some beautiful aerial shots of the Panama Canal.

As Farraday travels to Panama to pick up a shipment of counterfeit currency, his wife and kids are at home running from Andy’s boss, who wants his money back as soon as possible. Their separation leads to several gripping scenes, and Farraday frequently has to bark instructions at his wife over the cell phone in order for her to survive.

Contraband, like many movies released around this time of year, is not without fault. It sometimes seems a little too brutal, and nobody likes to see guns pointed at screaming children. Yes, the movie is portraying the life of organized crime, but a lot of the violence didn’t really fit the theme of the movie – which is surprisingly light-hearted at times.

The camera movement can be irritatingly, and inexplicably, disjointed, and whatever feel they were going for with this effect didn’t work. Other minor problems, like having the characters frequently escape from some ridiculously perilous situations, also take a toll on the intelligence of the audience.


What I appreciated most about Contraband was that it took us into a world that few other movies have gone. Smuggling is a multibillion (if not multitrillion) dollar per year industry. The ingenious ways in which Chris and his crew hide goods from customs agents is one of the most entertaining parts to watch.

Despite its shortcomings, Contraband is above average as far as action movies go. Its plot is easy to follow, but throws a few twists into the mix to keep audiences entertained, and while the acting is nothing to rave about, it does the job.

If you’re ready to take a peek into the dark world of international smuggling, then Contraband will fulfill that need. It’s a little rough-around-the-edges, but if you go in with low expectations (like I did) then you will likely get more out of it than you anticipate.

3.5 stars out of 5