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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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Monica: The circumstances of St. Monica’s life could have made her a nagging wife, a bitter daughter-in-law and a despairing parent, yet she did not give way to any of these temptations. Although she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a pagan, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa. Patricius had some redeeming features, but he had a violent temper and was licentious. Monica also had to bear with a cantankerous mother-in-law who lived in her home. Patricius criticized his wife because of her charity and piety, but always respected her. Monica’s prayers and example finally won her husband and mother-in-law to Christianity. Her husband died in 371, one year after his baptism. 
<p>Monica had at least three children who survived infancy. The oldest, Augustine (August 28) , is the most famous. At the time of his father’s death, Augustine was 17 and a rhetoric student in Carthage. Monica was distressed to learn that her son had accepted the Manichean heresy (all flesh is evil)  and was living an immoral life. For a while, she refused to let him eat or sleep in her house. Then one night she had a vision that assured her Augustine would return to the faith. From that time on, she stayed close to her son, praying and fasting for him. In fact, she often stayed much closer than Augustine wanted. </p><p>When he was 29, Augustine decided to go to Rome to teach rhetoric. Monica was determined to go along. One night he told his mother that he was going to the dock to say goodbye to a friend. Instead, he set sail for Rome. Monica was heartbroken when she learned of Augustine’s trick, but she still followed him. She arrived in Rome only to find that he had left for Milan. Although travel was difficult, Monica pursued him to Milan. </p><p>In Milan, Augustine came under the influence of the bishop, St. Ambrose, who also became Monica’s spiritual director. She accepted his advice in everything and had the humility to give up some practices that had become second nature to her (see Quote, below). Monica became a leader of the devout women in Milan as she had been in Tagaste. </p><p>She continued her prayers for Augustine during his years of instruction. At Easter, 387, St. Ambrose baptized Augustine and several of his friends. Soon after, his party left for Africa. Although no one else was aware of it, Monica knew her life was near the end. She told Augustine, “Son, nothing in this world now affords me delight. I do not know what there is now left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled.” She became ill shortly after and suffered severely for nine days before her death. </p><p>Almost all we know about St. Monica is in the writings of St. Augustine, especially his <i>Confessions</i>.</p> American Catholic Blog Heavenly Father, I am sure there are frequently tiny miracles where you protect us and are present to us although you always remain anonymous. Help me appreciate how carefully you watch over me and my loved ones all day long, and be sensitive enough to stay close to you. I ask this in Jesus's name. Amen.

 
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