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Blu-ray Review Contraband Blu-ray Review (1 Viewer)

Kevin EK

Senior HTF Member
May 9, 2003

Contraband will hit the streets on Blu-ray and DVD this week after a surprisingly good showing in theaters in January.  The movie, which remakes a recent film from Iceland, isn’t much to speak of:  Mark Wahlberg headlines as a former ace smuggler forced back into the life for one last job.  The script is pretty thin and the budget is clearly pretty low, but there are a couple of solid supporting performances and a good opening use of real Customs helicopters and equipment.  The Blu-ray comes with a good HD transfer and a few extras, including the director’s commentary.  Fans of Mark Wahlberg may want to rent this to see what he’s up to these days.

Universal/Relativity/Working Title

Year: 2012

Length: 1 hr 50 mins

Genre:  Action Thriller

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

BD Resolution and Codec: 1080p, AVC @ 30 mbps

Audio:  English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (@ an average 3.5 mbps, up to 4.9 mbps), Spanish DTS 5.1, French DTS 5.1, English DVS

Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish

Film Rating: R (Violence, Pervasive Language, Brief Drug Use, Mark Wahlberg Beating People Up)

Release Date: April 24, 2012

Starring:  Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale, Ben Foster, Giovanni Ribisi, Caleb Landry Jones and J.K. Simmons

Screenplay by: Aaron Guzikowski

Based Upon the 2008Film Reykjavik-Rotterdam Written By:  Arnaldur Indribason and Oskar Jonasson

Directed by: Baltasar Kormákur (Star and Producer of the earlier film)

Film Rating: 2/5

“Ed Gruberman, you must learn patience.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, patience, how long will that take?”

“Time has no meaning.  To a true student, a year is as a day.”

“A YEAR?  I wanna beat people up right now!  I got the pajamas!”

“Beat people up?”

“Yeah, just show me all those nifty moves so I can start trashing bozos!  That’s all I came here for.”

-From Ti Kwan Leep, also known as Boot to the Head by The Frantics

Contraband is the latest Mark Wahlberg action vehicle, built from the skeleton of a 2008 Icelandic smuggling thriller called Reykjavic-Rotterdam.  The plot should be familiar to people who have seen one or two of these kinds of movies.  Wahlberg plays Chris Farraday, formerly the best smuggler working out of New Orleans and now a family man with a legit business.  In the film’s opening action sequence, we see his none-too-bright brother-in-law blow a smuggling operation, which leads to Farraday having to do “one last job” to pay the debt and protect his family.  The short version of my take on this is that it’s fairly preposterous from the word go, and the movie devolves into a series of scenes where Wahlberg can act tough and beat people up.  And he gets to beat A LOT of people up in this movie.  On the other hand, there are a couple of good supporting performances, particularly Giovanni Ribisi (channeling Richard Edson) as a primary villain, David O’Hara as a smuggling boss, and a couple of scenes with the great William Lucking as Wahlberg’s father.  But none of the performances can make up for the flimsy story, the unbelievable plot turns or the generally low-budget look and feel of the movie.  

SPOILERS HERE:  READ ON AT YOUR PERIL.  While watching Contraband, the viewer may get a strong sense of having seen this before – because they have, over and over again.  The story of the ace smuggler (bank robber, safecracker, spy, etc) who gets pressed back into action for “one last job” has been the stuff of many an action picture over the past 80 years.  Sometimes this formula can work wonders – particularly if you have a script that is scratching below the surface or a director who can wow the viewer with the visuals or the execution.  (Heat and Score come to mind as two successful examples of this idea, and Unforgiven is probably its ultimate statement.)  And even with the flimsiness of the premise here, one can imagine how a director like Michael Mann might have handled this.  (Mann would have gone to town with the world-weariness of the smuggler and emphasized the details of the crime world.)  Or a more experienced director might have emphasized the notion of criminals being unable to escape the smuggling world – along the lines of “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back IN” or just the idea that the smuggler may leave the life, but the life doesn’t leave the smuggler.  Sadly, none of these ideas are really prevalent here – it’s all a perfunctory exercise with only maybe one or two brief moments of Wahlberg’s Farraday acknowledging he’s happier working as a smuggler than in his day job. 

MORE SPOILERS:  Where the movie really falls apart is when the viewer actually takes a minute to think about anything that’s happening.  Granted, in an action thriller, things can move quickly enough that the viewer suspends disbelief and just goes on the ride.  But that’s not the case here.  And while director Baltasar Kormákur, who produced and starred in the 2008 film, certainly knows this material, there just isn’t a strong sense of storytelling.  The movie lacks the motion and imagery one would expect.  Instead, many scenes just plod along, with some shaky handheld camera work clearly intended to inject the sense of urgency that is otherwise lacking.  (As a general note, running around a room with a handheld camera does not automatically make a scene exciting and urgent.)  Then we get into the meat of the problem as the plot gets underway.  We’re meant to believe that Farraday is an ace smuggler who never got caught and has been able to live off of his ill-gotten gains without challenge by law enforcement or anyone else.  Then we’re meant to believe that Farraday would volunteer to pay off his brother-in-law’s debts, and do so specifically by running another shipment of something into the country.  Then we’re meant to believe that Farraday, a known smuggler, can make a series of phone calls both around the country and to Panama to arrange for the contraband cargo to be ready for pickup, without anyone taking any notice.  Then we’re told that Farraday and his guys can just put themselves on a cargo ship and while they’re onboard, cut large holes in the hull without anyone noticing.  And of course, along the way, we get to see Farraday making numerous cell phone calls from a cargo ship at sea.  (I wasn’t aware that working class ex-smugglers had the use of satellite phones.)  Then, when Farraday gets to Panama to pick up his stuff, he somehow can locate a counterfeiting hideout he hasn’t been to in years in a matter of minutes, and when his buy money disappears, the locals drop their distrust of him and have him help on a local job.  And when that job ends in a massive hail of bullets, Farraday and his friends get out without a scratch on them.  FINAL SPOILER HERE:  And when the whole story ends, we’re meant to believe that Farraday, who has everyone watching him now, can use ill-gotten gains to buy a massive house on the coast without anyone asking any questions.  While we’re on the subject, we can also ask the question of how Farraday doesn’t know his best friend is behind the whole mess from the beginning.   On the other hand, the movie does take the time to have Farraday beat up pretty much everyone who crosses his path over the course of the movie. 

Contraband will be released simultaneously on Blu-ray and standard definition DVD on Tuesday. The Blu-ray has everything from the standard DVD, and adds high definition picture and sound to the movie and the special features, along with a U-Control feature that provides a bit more BTS footage. The Blu-ray package also includes the DVD copy of the movie on a second disc.  Instructions for downloading a digital copy and getting an Ultraviolet copy are also included in the package. 


Contraband is presented in a 1080p AVC 2.35:1 transfer that is a good representation of what this movie looked like in theaters.  Picture quality fluctuates wildly, but not due to the transfer.  The culprit here is a variety of recording media, with some scenes shot on film, and others shot on HD video.  Night scenes really show the HD work, as the contrast and grain are much more apparent.


Contraband is presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix in English, as well as standard DTS mixes in Spanish and French, and an English DVS track.  This is a fairly active mix, given all the action in the movie.  Gunshots fly across the home theater and the heavy sounds of large objects crashing have a large friend in the subwoofer.  Of course, the multiple beatings administered by Wahlberg also get that treatment – which results in an effect akin to the earlier Rocky movies…


The Blu-Ray presentation of Contraband comes with a fair amount of extra features, including a director commentary.  The DVD edition is included in the packaging.  Both Blu-ray and DVD include featurettes and deleted scenes.  The Blu-ray adds a U-Control feature that includes additional BTS footage.

My Scenes – The usual Blu-ray bookmarking feature is available here, allowing the viewer to set their own bookmarks throughout the film.

BD-Live - This Blu-ray includes access to Universal’s BD-Live online site, allowing for the viewing of trailers online.  

pocket BLU – This Blu-ray includes the usual pocket BLU functionality, enabling viewers with appropriate laptop, iPad or smart phone integration to remotely control their Blu-ray player and access some of the bonus content from the separate device.  Also, a digital copy is available for download via the pocket BLU application.

U-Control (BLU-RAY ONLY):

           PIP – On many of the chapters, a PIP function is available that will show further BTS footage and interviews than appear on the officially listed featurettes.  There is some overlap of comments, which is to be expected, as the interview footage is culled from the same sessions.

Commentary with Director/Producer Baltasar Kormákur and Producer Evan Hayes (3:14, 1080p) (AVAILABLE BOTH ON DVD & BLU-RAY) – This scene-specific commentary is a fairly breezy affair, although the guys do take some time to discuss the original movie and the production of this one.  If you’re a fan of the movie, it’s worth a listen, as they do get into some detail about production matters, including the lower budget and the need to shoot on HD rather than film for much of the film.

Deleted Scenes (6:24 Total, 1080p) (AVAILABLE BOTH ON DVD & BLU-RAY) – A total of ten deleted scenes are presented here, most of which are just additional moments or bits of dialogue that were clearly and correctly deemed to be unnecessary.  One scene is an alternate cut of an early crew selection scene.

Under the Radar:  The Making of Contraband (17:02, 1080p) (AVAILABLE BOTH ON DVD & BLU-RAY) –  LOTS OF SPOILERS IN THIS FEATURETTE – ONLY WATCH AFTER SEEING THE MOVIE –  This featurette has all the usual elements – some BTS video, on-set discussions and, of course, interviews with everyone discussing what a wonderful filmmaking experience this was.  One thing that does become clear here is that the movie was intended and tailored for Mark Wahlberg, who acknowledges this and even mentions with a laugh that he really does get to beat up a lot of people in this movie.  It’s interesting that the movie tries to make a point about how the movie is really about the working class neighborhoods of New Orleans where most of it was shot.  This is of course nonsense.  The movie was shot in Louisiana to take advantage of the tax incentives there, and while the Algiers neighborhood is mentioned and shown, that’s really not the emphasis of the movie.  A more effective approach for this featurette might have been to show how much they were able to stretch dollars on this movie to allow a few days shooting in Panama, and how they got as much as possible on the screen.

Reality Factor: The Stunts and Action of Contraband (7:56, 1080p) (AVAILABLE BOTH ON DVD & BLU-RAY) –  SOME SPOILERS IN THIS FEATURETTE:  This featurette focuses on the stuntwork of the movie, including the big shootout in Panama.  The participants stress that these scenes were played out in real locations rather than on a greenscreen stage.  Except of course, for one bit that involves flipping a van over with the cast inside... 

D-Box – The Blu-ray comes with D-Box functionality for those viewers who have this capability.

DVD Copy – A second disc is included in the package, holding the standard DVD of the theatrical cut of the movie.  It contains the movie presented in standard definition in an anamorphic 1.85:1 picture with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound in English, Spanish and French (448 kbps) and the same English DVS track as the Blu-ray.   All special features from the Blu-ray are included, save the U-Control function.

Digital and Ultraviolet Copies – Instructions are included in the packaging for downloading a digital copy of the movie to your laptop or portable device, as well as for obtaining an Ultraviolet streaming copy to be placed up in the cloud.  The instructions include a deadline of September 26, 2012 for activation.  I note again that the pocket BLU online menu also includes an option for downloading the digital copy.

Subtitles are available for the film and the special features, in English, Spanish and French. A full chapter menu is available for the film.


Contraband is a movie that will appeal if the viewer is a serious Mark Wahlberg fan, or has not seen this story already done about ten times.  For what it is, it can be diverting, but the flimsiness of the script and the preposterousness of the onscreen situations become a distraction in and of themselves.  The Blu-ray release of this movie includes solid HD picture and sound and some special features including a pretty good commentary.

Kevin Koster

April 22, 2012.

Equipment now in use in this Home Theater:

Panasonic 65” VT30 Plasma 3D HDTV – set at “THX” picture mode

Denon AVR-3311Cl Receiver

Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray Player

PS3 Player (used for calculation of bitrates for picture and sound)

5 Mirage Speakers (Front Left/Center/Right, Surround Back Left/Right)

2 Sony Speakers (Surround Left/Right – middle of room)

Martin Logan Dynamo 700 Subwoofer



Senior HTF Member
May 9, 2002
Real Name
Cameron Yee
Based on the movie poster, Mark Wahlberg has an inch he can't scratch...

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