A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Contraband is an intense action thriller about a former smuggler (played by Mark Wahlberg) who's forced to go back into business to protect his family. Expect distressing violence: The bad guys beat up and nearly sexually assault the main character's wife, as well as point guns at his tween kids. There's also fighting, shooting, killing, and blood. Language is another major issue, with characters saying either "f--k" or "s--t" literally every couple of minutes. The bad guys smuggle cocaine, and viewers see huge bricks of it; characters are also seen snorting some. A secondary character is a recovering alcoholic who falls off the wagon.
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What's the story?
In New Orleans, Chris Farraday (Mark Wahlberg) is a brilliant former smuggler who's gone straight for the sake of his wife (Kate Beckinsale) and two sons. But when his wife's younger brother (Caleb Landry Jones) gets in trouble with a local thug (Giovanni Ribisi), Chris must go back into business with his best friend, Sebastian (Ben Foster). Their plan is to ship out to Panama, pick up a huge, truck-sized pile of counterfeit bills -- Chris refuses to smuggle drugs -- and bring it back. Unfortunately absolutely everything goes wrong, from bad bills to a temperamental drug lord (Diego Luna) and a betrayal.
Is it any good?
CONTRABAND's plot (remade from a 2008 Icelandic thriller) is pretty creaky, but Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur's execution is scrappy and energetic. The movie begins at ground level, with an authentically urban, working-class feel around Chris; it's similar in this regard to the atmosphere of The Fighter. Using this as a basis, Kormakur very simply keeps raising the stakes.
The story grows more and more absurd, but each new wrinkle generates more suspense. Kormakur isn't particularly good at subtle things (like revealing a secret twist or creating a moment of discovery), and the action could have been cleaner and sharper, but most of the movie is based around big events, and they're very satisfying. It's more about guts than brains, along with generating supreme tension. The strong cast also includes J.K. Simmons as a cranky ship's captain and Lukas Haas as a nervous helper.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Contraband's violence. Is it suspenseful or gory? Is it necessary to the story?
The characters use questionable methods to accomplish their goals. What message does that send to viewers? Do the ends ever justify the means?
At the end of the movie, the main characters are left with the promise of great -- albeit ill-gotten -- riches. Do you think they'll find happiness?
- In theaters: January 13, 2012
- On DVD or streaming: April 24, 2012
- Cast: Ben Foster, Kate Beckinsale, Mark Wahlberg
- Director: Baltasar Kormakur
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Thriller
- Run time: 110 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: violence, pervasive language and brief drug use
- Last updated: March 14, 2020
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