Saturday, July 21, 2007
The Contract (2006) dir. Bruce Beresford
Starring: John Cusack, Morgan Freeman
“The Contract”? Never heard of it? Neither had I. Though it’s a straight-to-video release it had a solid director with two great actors, so I thought there might be some value for an under-the-radar discovery. I was wrong. It’s a paycheque film.
Morgan Freeman plays Frank Cordell, a hitman leading a group of former CIA thugs. The film opens with Freeman receiving his orders via cell phone. The orders are confirmed with Freeman’s sparse line of dialogue, “it’s on.” In the middle of the mission Cordell gets into a car accident and is rendered unconscious. His gun alerts the authorities and he wakes up in a hospital bed handcuffed to the post. As he’s being transported to the authorities (somewhere in remote woods of Washington State) his thug compatriots ambush the car, but not before it tumbles down a cliff and into the river to be carried off deep into the barren woods.
Meanwhile Ray Keane (John Cusack), a humble single dad is having troubles with his rebellious son. To repair the family rift and bond like men they decide to go camping in the woods. There they meet the escapee Cordell floating down the river with the U.S. Marshall who has been shot. Before his death, the Marshall’s last dying words are not to let Cordell go. He gives Cusack his gun and handcuff keys, then dies.
And so sets up another take on “The River Wild”, “Shoot to Kill”, and “The Edge”. The film fights really hard to fill the plot holes and logical inconsistencies – aka the “what would I do in this situation” problem. Any sane father with a child would let the guy go, retreat to safety then call the cops. But at the 30mins mark we suddenly learn Keane conveniently is a former cop, who now “teaches” gym (and drives the ugliest Chevy Lumina Mini Van imaginable). That’s the writers telling us he’s itching for some action. Well Keane and his son get some action in the form of the four thugs who chase them down. Some kind of conspiracy plot also emerges through the dialogue, there’s some kidnapper-hostage type of bonding between Cordell and Keane and Keane and his son successful bury the hatchet admid gunfire and helicopter crashes and the like.
Cusack and Freeman are surprisingly dull. Freeman hardly speaks a word except to fill the aforementioned plot holes and the supporting characters, especially the four thugs are cardboard caricatures of any generic action film.
Director Beresford tries really hard to cover up the bland plot by tossing in perfunctory action filmmaking techniques. Ie. Cordell’s car crash, which is just an accident but is staged like a grand action scene, with two car flips, a camera shot from inside the car as it turns upside down, multiple overlapping camera angles etc. Beresford employs the great cinematographer Dante Spinotti, someone else enticed by a large paycheque I imagine, but it doesn’t help.
The main question I have is why Cusack, Beresford, Freeman and Spinotti chose to make this film. Going by the credits, perhaps it was a chance to see the Balkan mountains of Bulgaria where the film was shot. Yes, we have a first, Bulgaria for Washington. In fact, the credits were the most interesting part of the film. The funniest credit is “Mr. Cusack’s masseuse”. I giggled at that. At least he spent his time there in comfort.
Don’t be fooled by the fancy cover or the big names, or taglines like, from the director and star of “Driving Miss Daisy”. “The Contract” wouldn’t even stand as an episode of “Prison Break”… Season 2 that is. The only redemption is that Cusack and Freeman’s paycheques went to a good cause.