A version of this review appeared in The Age, February 23, 2012.
Based on the Icelandic hit Reykjavik-Rotterdam (2008), Baltasar Kormakur's thriller is in some ways the kind of project a director like Steven Soderbergh might have pursued – a study of one of the hidden systems that make the world go round. In this case, it's the maritime smuggling trade, the former vocation of New Orleans family man Chris Farraday (Mark Wahlberg). Happily married to Kate (Kate Beckinsale), Chris has left his old ways behind him – but in time-honoured fashion, circumstances force him to return for one last job.
Contraband is pacy, unpredictable and boasts an intriguing supporting cast, from Diego Luna as a cheery but ruthless gangster to Lucas Haas as Chris' right-hand man. The film works well for as long as it concentrates on the nuts and bolts of procedure: how to delay a ship from leaving the dock, or the importance of seeing that your counterfeit bills are printed on starch-free paper.
Aaron Guzikowski's screenplay has a few too many contrived twists, but I suspect the biggest problems here stem from Wahlberg, who doubles as a producer. A gifted actor with an evidently substantial ego, Wahlberg seems to gravitate to playing a particular kind of hero: profane, cynical, but utterly loyal to his family and friends. Though Chris may be technically a criminal, the film asks us to remain on his side without question; even when he and his partner are accessories to a massacre, there's no hint we should give the moral implications a second's thought.