Distributor: NBC Universal
Release Date: February 23
Situational ethics are alive and well in Hollywood with Contraband taking viewers into the world of international smuggling where all things are permissible for the family man.
Mark Wahlberg is no stranger to action flicks – Max Payne, Shooter, The Departed – and his latest thriller sees him as a criminal who can’t seem to leave his lawless life behind. Chris Farraday is a legend on the docks and in the dives of New Orleans. For years he was a consummate smuggler who could get a full-price Ferrari past customs for the price of a beat up Honda. But his marriage and the arrival of two boys persuaded him the risks were no longer worth the return. Now he installs security systems for a living and watches his sons play soccer on the weekends. However his brother-in-law is not as smart and a failed job leaves him in debt to a dangerous drug cartel. Unless Chris can pull off one last ingenious import his family may soon be sleeping with the fishes.
Hollywood is no stranger to the ‘one last job’ plot device, though usually it takes the form of a bank heist. Contraband keeps things fresh with the smuggling angle and even throws in a two-for-one with an unexpected armored car robbery. However the most interesting elements revolve around watching Wahlberg’s character transform an international freighter to try and beat customs officials. I watched the film with an Australian Federal Police agent and he assures me the hero’s ingenious tactics are well-known tricks. Farraday’s flexible take on right and wrong is just as familiar.
What makes a hero’s actions acceptable to an audience is his motivation. Behaviour that would be unacceptable in any other context becomes appreciable when, say, a heroine is competing for the man she loves, or a child’s life is on the line. As familiar as the ‘one last job’ device is the ‘all for my family’ motivation. Farraday visits his father in prison, himself a former smuggler, who tells him that his proudest day was when his son announced he would be going ‘legit’. But when his son explains the risks he’s about to take, dad doesn’t try and change his mind. “It’s family,” he says. “I understand.” And so does the audience – what wouldn’t a loving person do for their family?
What never seems to occur to any of the characters, no matter how bad things get, is that they have another alternative – to involve the police. The reason is obvious: the Farradays have lived outside the law for so long that they don’t consider the authorities an option. It provides Contraband with an unintentional moral because it applies as much to us as it does to hardened criminals.
Break a rule often enough and pretty soon sin starts to look normal. If you don’t believe me, check the speed limits on the streets closest to your home. We live in a world where bad is no longer bad, if you have good in mind. That is, until the speed camera clicks and we have to come to terms with the fact that there are laws that exist above our excuses. And that applies as much to our lives as our commutes. We’re no more capable of making up special conditions for our behaviour than we are of changing the speed limit for our car. If we acknowledge the existence of a just God, we have to remember that his idea of right and wrong will apply as inflexibly to us as it will to international smugglers.