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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Contraband

By
John P. McCarthy
Source: Catholic News Service

Movies set in criminal milieus are often less than life-affirming because of the nature of the felonious activity being depicted. Yet there's something especially dispiriting about a crime thriller that only succeeds in being gritty on the surface because it doesn't follow through on its own logic.

In the case of "Contraband" (Universal), a movie that promptly bogs down in a sea of expletives, the protagonist is an ex-smuggler who not only thwarts the bad guys while miraculously avoiding harm, but has no compunction about enjoying ill-gotten plunder. This revelation doesn't qualify as a plot spoiler since the story follows a very predictable trajectory.

Moreover, considering all the vulgar language and violence one must endure before the falsely happy ending, the morally suspect message ultimately transmitted by "Contraband" amounts to adding insult to injury.

Mark Wahlberg plays putative hero Chris Farraday. Chris and his best friend, Sebastian Abney, (Ben Foster) are celebrated in New Orleans crime circles as "the Lennon and McCartney" of smuggling. That's in the past, however. When the movie begins, Chris has quit the racket, started a legitimate alarm installation business, and moved to a quiet parish with his wife, Kate (Kate Beckinsale), and their two young sons.

When Kate's little brother, Andy (Caleb Landry Jones), lands in hot water while trafficking cocaine, Chris decides he must pull one more job to raise the funds Andy owes drug dealer Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi), who threatens the entire Farraday family. Reuniting with some of his old associates, Chris joins the crew of a container ship and heads to Panama where there's a stash of counterfeit greenbacks waiting for him to smuggle into the United States.

Sebastian stays in New Orleans and vows to protect Kate and the boys.

Based on the 2008 Nordic thriller "Reykjavik-Rotterdam," "Contraband" features energetic cinematography and ample heist tension. But Baltasar Kormakur, who produced and starred in the original, directs this Hollywood reboot without taking advantage of Big Easy atmospherics, exploiting the relatively novel shipboard setting, or revealing the ins and outs of high-seas smuggling. Plot twists are telegraphed and many of the supporting performances are over the top.

Adults who fancy hard-boiled crime flicks might be willing to withstand the nonstop obscenities (which threaten to sink the picture even before the opening title sequence concludes), if Chris' repudiation of the criminal life wasn't so short-lived and insincere.

Aaron Guzikowski's script, however, shows him profiting from the escapade, and unrealistically avoiding any lasting damage, thus sending the message that crime does pay if you're clever enough. We're asked to believe that the ability to outwit the authorities and your fellow thugs renders a person immune from moral corruption.

The film contains skewed values, much lethal but only moderately graphic violence, one instance of drug use, some profanity and pervasive rough, crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is O—morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R—restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

*****
John P. McCarthy is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.



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James of the Marche: Meet one of the fathers of the modern pawnshop! 
<p>James was born in the Marche of Ancona, in central Italy along the Adriatic Sea. After earning doctorates in canon and civil law at the University of Perugia, he joined the Friars Minor and began a very austere life. He fasted nine months of the year; he slept three hours a night. St. Bernardine of Siena told him to moderate his penances. </p><p>James studied theology with St. John of Capistrano. Ordained in 1420, James began a preaching career that took him all over Italy and through 13 Central and Eastern European countries. This extremely popular preacher converted many people (250,000 at one estimate) and helped spread devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus. His sermons prompted numerous Catholics to reform their lives and many men joined the Franciscans under his influence. </p><p>With John of Capistrano, Albert of Sarteano and Bernardine of Siena, James is considered one of the "four pillars" of the Observant movement among the Franciscans. These friars became known especially for their preaching. </p><p>To combat extremely high interest rates, James established <i>montes pietatis</i> (literally, mountains of charity)--nonprofit credit organizations that lent money at very low rates on pawned objects. </p><p>Not everyone was happy with the work James did. Twice assassins lost their nerve when they came face to face with him. James died in 1476 and was canonized in 1726.</p> American Catholic Blog We all have fears, but we don’t have to be afraid. Jesus is always with us to protect us and give us courage. We only have to remember that the battle is the Lord’s. When Jesus gives us the victory, let’s be sure to thank Him and praise Him for what He has done.

 
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