Houdini had nothing on Chris Farraday.
In his glory days, the superstar smuggler could move contraband—drugs, counterfeit money, Ferraris—with a magical aplomb that would turn David Copperfield green with envy.
Those days, however, are long gone. These days, the New Orleans native is just trying to make an honest living selling and installing security systems to bring home the bacon for his pretty wife, Kate, and their two young sons. Even when old “associates” hint that they’d pay well for the ex-smuggler’s services, he’s not interested.
But his shady past once again becomes his present when Chris’ young nephew, Andy, botches a contraband job of his own. Andy, who’s working on a shipping freighter, dumps a big bag of cocaine overboard when customs officials come to call.
Andy’s dealer, a slimy underworld type named Tim Briggs, is none to happy about that, killing Andy’s partner and threatening to do the same to him.
Enter Uncle Chris. “I’ll get you the money in a month,” he promises Briggs. “Two weeks,” Briggs says, adding that if he fails, Kate and the kids will get added to the casualty list.
And just like that Chris Farraday is back in the smuggling business, assembling a crew and posing as a worker on a freighter headed to Panama City. The plan? Buy a pallet of counterfeit cash from a Central American crime lord, sneak it back onto the ship, head home and pay Andy’s debt.
Simple. What could possibly go wrong?
How about … everything.
Chris visits his father in prison. Dad, who was also a smuggler, says that the proudest moment of his life was the day Chris left off smuggling and launched a legitimate, successful business. And it’s clear that getting married and having two sons has played a big part in Chris’ desire to clean up his act.
In the abstract, Chris’ fierce protectiveness of Andy and his own family is a good thing. And to his credit, I suppose, he says he won’t smuggle drugs; instead dabbling in counterfeit cash. Better yet, and unlike the vast majority of films in this genre, Contraband does not end with Chris exacting mortal revenge on his family’s tormenters. Instead of winding up in a coffin or at the bottom of a river, the film’s two worst offenders end up in … prison.
A man at an AA meeting talks about how he’s learned to “let go and let God.” Kate wears a cross.
Kate also wears shirts that are low-cut. She and Chris kiss on several occasions and dance suggestively at a wedding reception. We see them cuddling in bed once, with him shirtless and her wearing a camisole. Another man forcibly and repeatedly tries to kiss Kate. There’s a threat of rape.
Violence is the currency of Contraband. The scene with the highest body count comes after Chris is forced by an upstart Panamanian crime lord—more or less at gunpoint—into participating in a heist of an armored truck. Chris’ role? Driving a van in front of the truck to get it to stop. The truck does stop … after smashing into Chris. The kingpin’s goons immediately open fire on the truck’s occupants.
Explosives hurl a guy across a parking lot. Chris’ partner, Danny, dumps a body out of their van as they drive through Panama City. Chris administers several savage beatdowns to Briggs that include punches and body slams, and leave the baddie visibly bloodied. Another similarly intense fistfight involves Chris shoving a guy’s head repeatedly into a desk and walls.
When the drug runners come for Kate, they run her through the wringer. She’s threatened. And then she’s brutally manhandled, with the threat of rape hanging in the air as Briggs puts a gun in her face. Trying to escape the unwanted (and drunken) sexual advances of another man, Kate is whacked in the head with a door and knocked to the floor. Thinking she’s dead, her assailant wraps her in a plastic sheet and drops her into a rebar-laced concrete form at a construction site. (Chris rescues her just as concrete begins pouring over her.) Briggs crashes his truck into the hair salon where Kate works, then grabs her head and shoves her into a mirror, lacerating her forehead badly.
The two young Farraday boys are held at gunpoint, and shots are fired both to scare them and in response to one of them pushing a gun away from his face.
Briggs rams Andy’s car, triggering serious injury and a fatality. Thinking Andy has betrayed him, Chris beats his friend severely until Andy can tell him the truth about what happened.
At least 135 f-words. Upwards of 50 s-words. Jesus’ and God’s names are taken in vain four or five times each (the latter paired twice with “d‑‑n.”). The c-word is uttered once. There are about 25 instances of “a‑‑,” “a‑‑hole,” “b‑‑ch,” “d‑‑n,” “h‑‑‑” and “p‑‑‑.” Vulgar references are made to male and female anatomy.
As noted, the plot is driven by Andy’s desperate decision to toss 10 pounds of cocaine into the ocean when customs officials board his ship. Later, Briggs manipulates Andy (by threatening the Farraday children’s lives) into securing four or five large bricks of coke. We see Briggs and his lackeys slicing the bricks open and sampling the product.
A friend of Chris’ attends an AA meeting, then falls off the wagon and orders a Jack at a bar. He later snorts cocaine, and we see him passed out, surrounded by beer bottles. He drives after drinking.
Several other scenes picture people drinking as well, one at a wedding reception and several more at a bar. The guys on the ship frequently drink beer. Several characters smoke.
Chris’ elaborate scheme to smuggle counterfeit currency back into America obviously involves lies and subterfuge piled upon even more lies and subterfuge. It’s not much of a surprise, then—morally at least—that one of Chris’ allies ultimately double-crosses him. Another key character, despite giving lip service to his distaste of smuggling, shows himself to be a man who can be bought.
Mark Walberg’s latest actioner is representative of the kind of projects he gravitates toward. Which is to say, gritty, violent and profane stories decorated with a veneer of redemption.
In the case of Contraband, that veneer comes in the form of a reformed criminal-turned-family-man who’s forced to do one last smuggling job for an ostensibly noble reason.
In a lengthy interview with the website irishecho.com, Walhberg, who also produced this film, talked about why he can relate to Chris Farraday. “In this movie, my character’s no angel,” he said. “He’s on the wrong side of the law as well, but he’s doing it for the right reason. He’s doing it to protect and provide for his family. And the other guys in the film are worse than me—and they’re not as likable. But those are the kinds of guys I like to root for. Those are the kinds of guys I can identify with. I could try to pull off the squeaky-clean thing, but I don’t necessarily think that’s my cup of tea.”
And squeaky clean this film certainly isn’t.
F-words fly more frequently than bullets and fists—and that’s saying something. Chris’ onscreen wife, played by Kate Beckinsale, is savagely assaulted several times, more so even than Chris himself. Those scenes are hard to watch. And I question what, exactly, they add to the storyline. After all, we already know Briggs is a bad guy who’s willing to do anything to make a buck. Even hurt or kill Chris’ family. Do we really need to see him stick a gun in a woman’s face or ram her head into a mirror to underscore the point?
You can probably guess how I’d answer that question.
Elsewhere in the same interview, Walhberg talked about his own journey from being an angry, drug-addicted bad boy to a devoted family man who’s now serious about his Catholic faith.
“I always talk about the things I think I need to be good at, and that, first and foremost, is to be a good servant to God and my faith, a good husband, a good father, a good son, a good friend, brother, neighbor. Those are the important things I focus on. If I succeed in business and fail at being a parent or husband, then it was all for nothing. Then I’ve failed.”
I appreciate the sentiment. And I don’t question the sincerity of Mark’s faith. But I do scratch my head a bit when it comes to figuring out how being “a good servant to God” connects with telling stories that journey as far into harsh R-rated territory as this one does.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews.