Director: Tarik Saleh
Cast: Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Gillian Jacobs, Eddie Marsan, Florian Munteanu, Kiefer Sutherland
Runtime: 1 hr 43 mins
Rating: NC16 (Coarse Language and Violence)
Released By: Golden Village Pictures
Opening Day: 10 March 2022
Synopsis: After being involuntarily discharged from the U.S. Special Forces, James Harper (Pine) decides to support his family by joining a private contracting organization alongside his best friend (Foster) and under the command of a fellow veteran (Sutherland). Overseas on a covert mission, Harper must evade those trying to kill him while making his way back home.
Lest we forget, it was just about two decades ago that the United States had gone to war with Iraq, after falsely claiming that the Saddam Hussein government had weapons of mass destruction. While the government counted the cost of the war in terms of billions, its army and citizens did so in terms of lives lost and irreversibly damaged.
Though pitched as an action thriller involving such individuals who joined private contracting firms after struggling to re-adapt to civilian life, it is ultimately better as a character study of the personal challenges each of these persons would no doubt have had to go through, as well as the morass of ethically questionable jobs that the government had contracted out to these private firms to get done off the radar.
Indeed, ‘The Contractor’ is deliberately paced to outline the post-army life of former Special Forces sergeant James Harper (Chris Pine), who is dishonourably discharged by a new commanding regime under the excuse of abusing drugs for his left knee which he had shattered in combat.
Without pension or health care, James finds himself at a loss how to take care of his wife (Gillian Jacobs) and young son. He is also still haunted by the disappearance of his Ranger father, and unsettled by the death of fellow war veterans who could not re-adjust after being similarly discharged.
It is a sobering reality, and both Swedish director Tarik Saleh and writer J.P. Davis take care in the first act to illustrate James’ sense of anxiety, disillusionment and even helplessness before the action takes over.
Out of sheer desperation, James asks his best friend Mike (Ben Foster) for an introduction to the fellow veteran (Kiefer Sutherland) whose outfit he works for. James’ first mission sees him being sent to Berlin to assassinate a scientist with purported links to Al Qaeda, though as you can probably guess, things are not quite what they seem to be.
Unfortunately for James and Mike, the mission goes awry, leaving the rest of their team killed by German police and the need to cover their tracks. We shan’t spoil the surprise for what comes next, but suffice to say that James will eventually learn what research the scientist was working on and eventually return to the United States to settle the score with his employers.
Those who like their stories with intrigue will be disappointed that there is little of that here, not least because there is never any doubt who the bad guys really were or does the narrative throw in any twists along the way.
Despite the by-the-numbers plotting, you’ll find yourself invested in James’ fate, thanks to the character-driven first act we described earlier, as well as Pine’s utterly committed performance. Coming off supporting roles in the ‘Wonder Woman’ movies, Pine shows his leading man chops here, playing the role of a damaged former soldier with utter conviction. Pine is also front and centre in the hand-to-hand action scenes, going mano-a-mano with tough military types in mostly tight confines.
It is however true too that the rest of the supporting cast is sadly wasted. As James’ wife and mother to his kid, Jacobs tries her best to project the unease of a woman worried both about her husband and their family’s future, but is given short shrift in the last two acts. The friendship between James and Mark is never fully explored, such that we also never get to see the character acting Foster is capable of. But perhaps the most criminally underused is Sutherland, who is in only two scenes of the final cut of the movie and is particularly let down by the climax.
You’d do well therefore not to regard ‘The Contractor’ as an action thriller, for it is at best serviceable and at worst uninspiring. Yet we suspect both director Saleh and our leading man Pine were drawn to the material because of its potential as a character study of former military men who were let down by the service and had no choice but to turn to shady private jobs to earn a living. And in that regard, it presents an earnest portrait of one such individual that you can relate and sympathise with.
(Better as a character study than as an action thriller, 'The Contractor' is bolstered by an utterly committed leading performance from Chris Pine)
Review by Gabriel Chong