R, 103 mins.
2022, R, 103 mins.
Chris Pine as James Harper / Ben Foster as Mike / Gillian Jacobs as Brianne / Eddie Marsan as Virgil / Kiefer Sutherland as Rusty / Florian Munteanu as Kaufman / Tait Fletcher as Dalton / Fares Fares as Salim / Nina Hoss as Katia / J. D. Pardo as Eric / Amira Casar as Sylvia / Tyner Rushing as Christine Denton / Toby Dixon as Young James / Brian Lafontaine as Captain
Directed by Tarik Saleh / Written by J.P. Davis
THE CONTRACTOR has several good elements in place to make for a solid film:
A robustly committed lead performance, workmanlike direction, some noble minded thematic complexity, and strong production values.
Unfortunately, this Tarik
Saleh directed thriller (shot in 2019 and finally seeing the release light
of day now) seems hopelessly caught battling between two distinct tones:
It wants to be a bombastic action picture and a solemn minded message
drama about the plight of struggling military veterans and the levels they
go to in order to makes ends meet back in civilian life.
I think that the core arc of THE CONTRACTOR - soldiers that are
trained and called upon to kill for God and country that are taken for
granted back on the home front - is noteworthy and timely enough, but the
wholly pedestrian approach with this material makes the end result feel
like dozens of other similar and better films that have come before it.
That, and it seems like a very thinly veiled attempt to give star
Chris Pine his own JASON BOURNE
franchise starter, and the obviousness here taints this picture and its
Still, it sure is a blast to
see the stars of the masterful HELL OR
HIGH WATER in Pine and Ben Foster reunited, albeit in a vastly
inferior effort. Both of them
play ex-military men turned mercenaries that - in a highly predictable
chain of events - realize that their current mission is anything but safe
and by the books. Pine plays
James Harper, a highly decorated soldier that seemingly has it all in the
military and is resoundingly good in his role, but his illegal use of
steroids to treat a horrible knee injury to keep him active gets noticed
by his superiors, which subsequently leads to his involuntary discharge
from service and - worse yet - a complete sacrifice of any future pension
or health benefits. He has a
loving and supporting wife (played by a mostly wasted Gillian Jacobs in
the obligatory loving and supporting wife role), but she reminds
him that bills are pilling up and both start to have grave misgivings
about how they're going to survive as a family moving forward.
Desperate for work and a high
payday, James hooks with his service BFF in Mike (Foster), who has been
through relative hell and back with James during their past tours of duty,
with the latter even saving his life at one point, leaving Mike forever in
his debt. Mike decides to let
his pal into his new inner circle as a mercenary by introducing him to
Rusty (Kiefer Sutherland), who runs a top secret black ops unit that gets
paid insanely well for incredibly dangerous missions overseas.
Fully on the verge of complete financial ruin, James eagerly
accepts his new clandestine job, and within no time both James and Mike -
alongside their fellow team members - are sent to Germany to locate
a scientist named Salim (Fares Fares), whom they believe is
actually a dangerous bioweapons
terrorists that's a perceived threat on the world.
James and his new squad are told by Rusty that their target is of
the utmost importance on a level of national security, but things soon go
south very fast during this mission, leaving James fending for himself and
his life, not to mention being slammed with the painful revelation that
his new contractor employer may or may not be on the level at all.
James' crisis of conscience
early on in THE CONTRACTOR is what gives the film some decent story
momentum. On a psychological
level, the film is delving into all of the sacrifices that this character
has made in his past life as a soldier and, like so many other veterans,
is sadly struggling to support himself and his family post career.
As an added kick to the gut, James is booted out of the military
under such embarrassing terms, leaving him struggling to confront whether
his time as a soldier was even an honorable one to begin with. This
propels him - largely against his wife's will - to seek out employment
with that black ops team. He
becomes enthralled by the relative wealth and luxury that Mike lives in
and seems to enthusiastically want a piece of the action.
J.P. Davis' screenplay doesn't lay on the jingoistic themes too
thick here. In James' journey
for his piece of the American dream - and while walking in his father's
footsteps as a soldier, which was entrenched in him since nearly birth as
his destiny - he gets tested on multiple levels and faces mounting
pressures that hold him back. There's
a lot going on here on a thematic level, especially for how THE CONTRACTOR
has much to say about life in the military and how lack of universal
health care has plagued James' family.
But, let's be honest, if
you've seen one action thriller like THE CONTRACTOR then you've
essentially have seen them all. You
know the type I'm talking about: Decent and honor bound family/servicemen
that are dealt with insurmountable physical and financial hardships that
strive to remain relevant and worthy in the military, but are driven to
take shady work when they have no other options.
The narrative arc of THE CONTRACTOR is a simple one of a good man
making drastic mistakes in trusting the wrong people, and then pays for
it. You can sense the plot
trajectory from a proverbial mile away, especially for the manner it's so
painfully telegraphed. You
just know that Sutherland's black ops manager is not entirely the man he
claims to be. You just know
that there must be many catches with the black ops work that Mike has done
to secure such an extravagent lifestyle for his wife and kids.
You just know that the first mission that James finds himself on in
his new role as a black ops contractor will unavoidably blow up in his
face and cause him even more anguish.
Anyone that has seen a genre piece like THE CONTRACTOR will not be
surprised in the slightest with what happens here; the story goes form
beat to beat with numbing predictability.
Also, in terms of these lone
and determined men versus the system films, THE CONTRACTOR really comes
off as a poor man's JASON BOURNE clone throughout, replete with
globetrotting adventure, government conspiracies, and a troubled, but
ruthlessly determined hero - essentially alone and on his own - to pick up
the pieces of the mess he's in to stick it back to those in power that
have wronged him. And it's
not that Pine isn't good in this derivative role.
To the contrary, he gives a fairly layered and thanklessly nuanced
turn as a man that's tormented by trust issues on multiple levels, but has
to develop the an inner resolve to keep himself alive and get some much
needed answers. As I
mentioned in my recent review of ALL
THE OLD KNIVES (a much better thriller than this), I find that
Pine is a better actor than given credit for and deserves to have meatier
and and more mature roles that challenge him (he's good in crowd pleasing
blockbusters like STAR TREK and WONDER
WOMAN, but he's capable of elevating himself far above populist
entertainment). Pine is
certainly as capable as Matt Damon before him in these type of tightly
wound action hero roles, but the problem with THE CONTRACTOR is that it's
a poser effort and comes off like a lazy facsimile of the far superior