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Movie Review

Release Date: 04/01/22
Genre: Action/Thriller

Studio: Paramount Pictures

Available in Theaters and On Demand and Digital April 1st!


"A discharged U.S. Special Forces sergeant, James Harper, risks everything for his family when he joins a private contracting organization."


There was something (albeit, probably nostalgic for me) special about the late 90s/early 2000s, mid-level budget action flick. A straightforward narrative with a reasonably likeable protagonist and a few decent shootouts would often be the recipe for a decent 2 hour action-thriller. Flashforward to 2022, and it seems that most action movies either feel too lacklustre or only set out to push boundaries to become the grandest thrill-ride of them all. However, the Chris Pine led vehicle, The Contractor, somehow managed to capture that perfect middle ground, and even with its faults, managed to be a decently enjoyable flick.


James Harper (Pine), a decorated Army Ranger, is involuntarily discharged from the Special Forces when new leadership discovers he has been secretly using steroids to treat an ongoing injury - something that is frowned upon by the U.S. Army. Without access to his pension, and with a wife and child to look after, Harper turns to his fellow ex-soldier, Mike (Ben Foster), who has been working as a private contractor for a fellow veteran (Kiefer Sutherland), earning the most money he ever has in his life. Lured in by the chance to secure his family's future, Harper joins Mike on his next mission only to be tangled in a web of espionage and lies, and must fight for his life.


Swedish director Tarik Saleh makes his English-language feature film debut (although he has worked on HBOs Westworld), with a slick, tense and often engaging action-thriller. Emphasising the impact more so on thriller (most likely due to the film’s lower budget), Saleh plays a lot of moments later on in the film, in which Harper is navigating foreign countries while trying to not get murdered, out in a Jason Bourne type of fashion. The handheld camera frantically following Harper around while he takes tense phone calls from people he used to trust really gives off the aforementioned vibe of an early 2000s thriller. And while it’s definitely a tried and tested formula that doesn’t necessarily feel original, there is a freshness to it within The Contractor as it’s not something used recently in action films.


Saleh also handles the action reasonably well with respectably crafted shootouts and the occasionally hand-to-hand combat scene. Saleh isn’t trying to re-invent the wheel with elaborate set ups or unique cinematography, however, he captures each action set piece in a way that all the violence is seen and not hidden or disfigured by over-the-top camera shakes and zooms.


The driving force behind this film is Chris Pine’s performance. From the get-go, Pine plays Harper with a great amount of sincerity, like he really feels for this character he is portraying. Harper’s opening moments as he fronts the military board is a solid emotional investment into the character and makes him a likeable protagonist to get behind. Pine’s physicality also lends to the action scenes throughout the film, allowing him to balance the ‘everyday man’ and ‘trained killer’ tone that his character needs in a film like this.


As he does in many of his roles, Ben Foster attacks The Contractor with his signature (mostly facial) intensity. He’s one of the greatest actors working today, and even in films like this that aren’t garnering awards acclaim, Foster still treats the material with respect, and that shows in his performance. Foster’s dynamic range provides great context for Mike’s relationship with Harper, and similar to Pine, allows Foster to feel authentic in the scenes that require his military training to be on full display.

Much like Saleh’s safe directorial approach to the film, the script by J.P. Davis doesn’t do a lot to reinvigorate the genre, but does a decent enough job at being an engaging story still. As more and more reveals in the plot begin to come to light, there are a few plot holes and convolutions with characters that will feel more confusing than not. The Contractor shines the most when it’s at its most straightforward plot-wise, and then loses its engagement when it tries to become slightly more than it needs to be.

The Contractor is a great-throwback to the small budget action-thriller of the early 2000s, with solid performances from Pine and Foster. However, like the movies of that era, it’s as generic as they come and doesn’t succeed when it tries to do something new.

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