Blink and you might have missed the theatrical release of the Chris Pine action thriller The Contractor this past April. The movie made a paltry $2 million or so in ticket sales, despite a reported budget of $40-50 million, and I ended up watching it free on-demand at the fire station. Those are pretty dismal box office numbers and would seem to suggest a terrible movie that was not at all worth the cost of a ticket. While The Contractor is by no means a masterpiece it does happen to be a solid action-thriller, and worth a viewing.
The plot of the movie is a bit messy. Chris Pine stars as Special Forces Soldier James Harper. Harper is summarily dismissed from the Army for using banned substances to treat a debilitating knee injury so that he can “stay in the fight.” The director makes sure to depict Harper as a straight arrow Green Beret, a patriot, a loving dad, and someone dedicated to his country and family, despite this setback. Due to his family’s significant accrued debt, Harper decides to take a private military contractor job.
The promise of a big payday, and a mentor’s endorsement of a contract company run by a fellow former SOF soldier convince Harper to take the job despite the reservations of his wife.
The mentor is played by Ben Foster, who is mostly great in every role he plays. He is great here, too. A suitably salty and convincing Kiefer Sutherland plays military veteran Rusty Haynes, who owns the company in question.
All is fine and good up to this point in the film, in terms of plot and character development. I even thought that maybe this was going to be a sophisticated and subtle examination of some of the moral grey areas faced by the veterans who choose to pursue the clandestine private contractor route.
Well, that notion is dispelled as soon as Harper undertakes his very first operation with the company. Any notion of a nuanced look at the contractor’s experience in the shadowy world of intelligence is pretty much thrown out the window. The operation is not at all what it was portrayed to be to Harper. There are betrayals, double-crosses, murky motives, and innocents caught in multiple crossfires. It is not even particularly clear on whose behalf the operation is being carried out.
More explosions, less thinking
At that point in the movie, I flipped my mental switch from “this could be intellectually interesting” to “Imma just enjoy this action thriller,” and all was fine. If you too can make that leap, then you will likely enjoy the rest of the relatively exciting ride.
There are numerous fairly realistic gun fights, with precision shooting and maneuvering, and Harper proves to be a highly capable, Bourne-like character. He is able to extricate himself from a number of harrowing circumstances on his way to figuring out what the hell is going on. The fight scenes are a-plenty, even if not all the characters’ motivations are properly explained.
Regardless, the rest of the movie lands pretty much squarely within that genre of “oh, you went and betrayed the wrong man!” This seems to be standard these days in action thrillers, as evidenced by the popularity of shows like The Terminal List and The Old Man.
The aftermath is a satisfying revenge tale, where we get to cheer for the lone badass raging against legions of evil conspirators.
Despite a slightly more depressing take on the genre, it is fun to watch Pine and Foster operate together on screen, and to witness the conspiracy unfold and the resulting revenge exacted.
While we do get small hints of deeper themes — the effects of high operational tempo on soldiers and their families, for example — for the most part, The Contractor is a popcorn thriller with solid acting, fun action sequences, and a plot that will keep you entertained despite some glaring holes. You can watch the trailer below.
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