Super on-screen smuggler Marky Mark employs his skills in Contraband, almost to unbelievable proportions. With little time to go before an inspections crew raids the ship containing Wahlberg’s illicit goods, he concocts a scheme involving physics, salt, cocaine, weight ratios, bundles of money, and oceanic navigation. It’s awesome.
Of course it’s utterly absurd, but with the proverbial back against the wall, there is no other out. Might as well employ those high school physics, right? Contraband doesn’t do much for its credibility, most of the legitimate aspects coming between the family material. That unit begins to collapse, Wahlberg’s on-film wife tormented by a grungy, low end drug pusher while Wahlberg tries to clean up the mess.
Between success and failure lie the in-laws, two of whom make your family holiday get togethers seem normal. With rash decisions and betrayal, Contraband plays with others well thematically. The shipping boat holding Wahlberg from his family creates a dynamic played out minus any apparent recourse short of cell phone tag, making the lead helpless and panicked. It makes his drastic decision making even more ludicrous than it already was.
There is a sense of fun saddled between the bloodshed. Despite the intensity of pointed guns and hidden dope, there’s J.K Simmons having a blast as a ship captain who plays thing too straight for his own good. Clearly, he loves his job, both from a character perspective and as an actor. Giovanni Ribisi, while tighter in terms of character, hams it up as the local drug kingpin, goofy mannerisms and vocal inflections that push him to the lower rung of thugs.
Tying it all together are a handful of punchy action scenes, driving the narrative ahead after a sluggishly dull opening act. The family unit is pushed with overwhelming importance before the smuggling can take over. Contraband is overcooked and burned out before it finds wings.
Regardless, there’s a risky, tightly acted action flick on hand that finds itself in the second act. Smuggling antics, no matter how absurd they are, have an aggression and energy to them, more so with the addition of that Hollywood polish. Contraband looks great, arguably better than the material deserves.
Even in broad daylight, Contraband is dark. Black levels keep the image steady and consistent but will smother shadow detail. Characters can be lost in the absence of hearty light sources, a late shot of Caleb Landry Jones -escaping with his haul in the shipping yard- losing the actor completely.
Aerial establishing shots have undesirable results too, either moving from the chosen film stock for digital or removing the nature of film all together. Most shimmer or flicker during pans, water taking on an oily, thick appearance. These shots appear filtered, flattened, and murky, a departure from elsewhere.
Those exteriors are out of line with close-ups, where in the definition is draped over the frame with total regard for clarity. Facial detail is extensive, and sharpness is pinpoint. This is, of course, referring to those shots where the black levels allow something to show through. There’s a secondary battle with the grain structure which finds itself stuck in fluctuations; the AVC encode doesn’t resolve the material with accuracy. The image can take on a noisy, sloppy look, where walls appear to be crawling with imperfections.
Saturation is dialed down, with the colors that do remain being given a hearty density. Blues will fill the frame, giving flesh tones a cool hue while situating the piece on frigid waters. The appeal is certainly there even without extensive primary focus. It’s an element that keeps the image alive, teetering between the average or just above, certainly compared to the technical expectation for a glossy release like this.
High action moments perform up to par sonically in Contraband, meeting the expectation unlike the video. A street shootout with an armored truck doesn’t pursue the low-end for gunfire, instead creating an environment for the bullets to travel. Connecting with the vehicles scattered around the battlefield creates the intensity.
LFE will bulge with a variety of cars smashing into things or each other, although proving to be a mild disappointment as an anchor struggles to catch the sea bottom. All of that weight should generate more of a rumble. There’s also the ship’s engine room, where a droning effect is laid out for atmosphere. That’s Contraband’s best element: the ship interior. Sounds fill the hallways to make the ship seem in motion at all times. Docking areas are equally active when in port.
It’s hard to argue against the DTS-HD’s track balance which pushes dialogue on an equal level with the action. Even amongst gunfire during the above mentioned street shootout, small quips and panicked lines are evident. Nothing is lost, just appreciated.
Director Baltasar Kormakur joins producer Evean Hayes for a commentary track, the most in-depth of the bonus elements. A dozen deleted scenes run for a bit over six minutes, Under the Radar following as the key making-of. Contraband is actually a remake, and that process of transition is discussed. Reality Factor delves into the stuntwork and technical challenges for the action scenes.
Universal’s U-Control is inserted for picture-in-picture material, while the disc also supports D-Box and BD-Live.