PLOT: An involuntarily discharged special forces Sergeant (Chris Pine) becomes a private contractor for an elite unit with disastrous results.
REVIEW: The Contractor is way better than you’d believe, given that it’s getting a low-key hybrid VOD/limited release, with a bow set for Showtime later this year. Clearly, Tarik Saleh’s film was made with a theatrical release in mind. If not for STX’s financial woes, a wide release would have been in the cards. Indeed, it ranks as one of star Chris Pine’s best solo star vehicles.
His character is sympathetic from the get-go, even if he keeps making terrible decisions. To keep himself on active duty, he’s been self-medicating with everything from pain killers to HGH, and when his CO finds out, he’s drummed out of the service. He’s allowed an honorable discharge, but he’s left without a pension or benefits. With no way to support his family, including a wife (Gillian Jacobs) and son (Sander Thomas), he opts to join his best buddy (Ben Foster) on a private contracting gig for an amiable veteran (Kiefer Sutherland). They’re dispatched to Berlin to destroy a lab that’s supposed to be designing bio-weapons, but it quickly turns into a massacre, leaving the bodies of a scientist (Fares Fares) and many cops in their wake. Figuring he’s been set up, Pine’s ex-soldier goes on the run.
While nothing about this sounds wildly original, a few things distinguish The Contractor. For one, while having a good eye for action, director Tarik Saleh is primarily making a character study. Pine is virtually never off-screen, and his performance ranks up there as one of his best. He’s not an invincible Jason Bourne-clone. Indeed, he’s all too human and an easy asset for the powers that be to burn, and his plight is explored in a way that differs from most action films and seems more reminiscent of paranoia thrillers like The Parallax View gold Three Days of the Condor.
He’s supported by a strong cast, with his chemistry with co-star Ben Foster (who he teamed with in Hell or High Water) we dot. Foster is shown to have a family of his own to support, complete with a son with special needs, so he’s made fully human and not just a stock character. Likewise, Kiefer Sutherland humanizes what could have been a two-dimensional part even if he immediately seems like a red herring. Eddie Marsan also has a strong cameo as a fellow operative Pine meets in the field. He makes Pine’s plight have more resonance, with it clear that it’s unlikely he’ll ever be able to return to his family at best. Marsan plays a character he seems bound to become if he survives to the end credits – alone and constantly on the run. Gillian Jacobs is also good as Pine’s loyal wife, although it’s a more minor role than you’d expect.
The action scenes are kept relatively low-key, but some of the hand-to-hand scraps are memorably brutal in a way the PG-13 Bourne movies never dared. This is a far better showcase for Pine than his other Bourne-style actioner, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruitand this could have led to an excellent, low-key franchise for the actor had it gotten a better release.
In the end, The Contractor might be doomed to be one of those movies like Shot Caller, where it turns up on cable or streaming, and you wonder to yourself, wow, how did I miss this? At any rate, it’s a well-done action movie with a heart that’s worth keeping an eye out for. Pine has rarely been better.