By: John M Jerva
What do warriors do when they are no longer able to use the lethal skills that they acquired throughout the years to protect the freedom and sovereignty of this country?
This is the underlying question of Paramount Pictures latest military style action-thriller The Contractor which boasts an eclectic cast including Star Trek’s Chris Pine, his Hell or High Water co-star Ben Foster and Jack Bauer himself Kiefer Sutherland. This is more than an action movie as there are intense underlying themes about the treatment of vets as well as how far some will go for patriotism. If you’re expecting to see a Michael Bay bombastic affair than look elsewhere as this is more of a slow burn thriller punctuated with violent adrenaline and intense situations.
Pine stars as James Harper, a special forces sergeant who is involuntary discharged from the Army after suffering a detrimental knee injury and also due to the fact that he has become dependent on pain killers. To make matters worse, the powers that be have stripped Harper of his pension which he so rightly deserves forcing him to find alternative means to provide for his wife played by Gillian Jacobs and his young son.
Harper’s comrade in arms Mike offers a solution for all his financial woes by joining a private, underground military contractor led by Kiefer Sutherland. At first it looks too good to be true as the money is great but unfortunately Harper’s first assignment goes horribly awry. There’s more than meets the eye here as the target is not all that he seems.
Now on the run from the very people that he works for, Harper must run a gauntlet of trained and efficient killers in a do or die mission to uncover the truth behind a vast conspiracy. Not knowing who he can trust, Harper relies on all his tactical skills to keep him alive and one step ahead of his assailants as he tries to make his way home to his family and uncover what is really behind this conspiracy.
As the lead in an action film movie, Chris Pine is no stranger as he has starred in a host of films including Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Outlaw King and, of course, the newest reboot of the Star Trek franchise. Pine has a multitude of strengths here as he definitely looks the part of a seasoned war professional but there is also a layer of sympathetic restraint to which Pine plays his role with steadfast steaminess. This is clearly one of the best, if not best, performances from Pine as he injects heart, sympathy and a quiet rage to his performance as the fallen warrior who is trying to find out what how he fits into a world that has forsaken him.
In the quieter moments of the movie, Pine is believable as a man who has nothing to lose, and it is in these moments that Pine rises to the occasion delivering a stoic and emotional portrayal of a warrior looking for a new war to fight. I hear all the time that actors like Pine don’t look like action stars, but I ask you what does an action star look like? Do they have to be the comic book caricatures that we got in the 80’s? Of course not. If anything, Pine looks more like a special forces soldier than Stallone or Schawzenegger did. These men in real life aren’t all 6’5 and 250 pounds. They look like regular men. They look like you and me except for the fact that they have a very deadly skill set and they know how to use it. I should know as I trained many of them during my days as a martial arts instructor. This argument is invalid nowadays and when someone tells me someone doesn’t look like an action star, I just roll my eyes.
Pine’s supporting cast is top tier as he is surrounded by a legit crew that includes Ben Foster whom he has worked with before on the emotional action-drama Hell or High Water. Foster stars as Mike who served with Harper and the two are tight as they have seen the horrors of what men can do. The two import their great on-screen chemistry from the other film and Foster matches Pine’s performance verbatim and his character has more going on then is first introduced. Foster is one of those actors that can act with his eyes and expressions and here is no different.
As the shadowy leader of the clandestine black ops group simply known as Rusty, Kiefer Sutherland is once again one of the best aspects of the proceedings. Unfortunately, Sutherland’s screentime is limited but he raises the stakes in every scene that he’s in. In hindsight, I would have loved to see his character fleshed out a little more with what was driving him, but we only get the surface of it which is a missed opportunity.
Like I stated earlier, those of you expecting a mindless and violent action film will be disappointed. This film is a crackling adrenaline rush, but it takes its time to amp it up as the audience spends some time with Harper and his family. It really pays off as we are invested in him when things go south, and we really want to see him survive and make it home. There are many themes to the story including the plight of vets after they have served and howe the country treats them after they have essentially sacrificed themselves for the greater good. There are also the rumblings of what war does to the morality of men and how damaging blind patriotism truly is.
I wasn’t familiar with Tarik Saleh who helmed the movie, but I applaud him for delivering a smarter action film that is much more than just bullets and explosions. Saleh uses the strengths of his cast and isn’t afraid to get to the heart of certain subjects like the ones I mentioned before the chaos ensues. Saleh makes you think a little while you watch, and this definitely gives the action another layer to it.
The plot may seem familiar with our stalwart hero getting involved in a shadowy conspiracy, but the cast and their performances elevate it to another level. Yes, we know that Sutherland’s Rusty is probably up to no good, but we still want to see how it all plays out. Pine is the catalyst for the running time, and it is through him that this ride will want to be taken.
When the action does hit, it’s visceral and low key with some truly shocking violent moments. There are essentially three set pieces in the film and the action is shot coherent and steady so we can see the consequences of the situations. The chaos is like a punctuation point to the drama and it’s done for the sake of the story which is refreshing. Pine and Foster really excel in the noisier moments and look the part as seasoned warriors in the way they move and how they handle their weapons. Even when the bullets aren’t flying, the taut, tense feel of the movie will keep you riveted to the screen and the payoff is more than welcome. The firefight in the middle of the film is the definite highlight and the casualties mount so it will surely keep you guessing as to who will survive.
The finale may leave you a little unsatisfied as the inevitable confrontation between Harper and Rusty is over before it gets started but I felt it was a more realistic outcome which matched the rest of the movie. A more drawn-out throwdown would have seemed out of place so in hindsight, it ends the only way it could have.
Overall, The Contractor is a more adult and dramatic affair, with standout performances from the stellar cast. This is an action-thriller with something to say and the action compliments the story, and it is its own character. I wish that Paramount kept the film’s original title of Violence of Action as it suits it far better. The Contractor makes it sound like this is just another mindless film but that couldn’t be any farther from the truth. Pine delivers his best performance, and the supporting cast are solid as well with Foster complimenting him every step of the way. It is equal parts human drama and black ops adrenaline and the yin yang aesthetic compliments the story which is a change of pace from most action films we get nowadays. Give the movie a chance to simmer at the beginning because the payoff is rewarding and satisfying. The Contractor is one of the most pleasant surprises of the year so far and is a strong contender for making my top 10 best of list for 2022.
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