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Contractor (2022) (4K Ultra HD), The
The pandemic and related rise of streaming-video platforms and exclusive releases has been interesting. Suddenly, movies that would have crashed and burned at the box office are billed as big-ticket items on streaming services. The initial HBO Max premiere releases like Dune and The Matrix Resurrections are perhaps the exceptions, as they were planned theatrical releases, but production companies were willing to sell the distribution rights to many of these films for a reason: they're trash. Tarik Saleh's The Contractor falls somewhere in the middle. It is competently made and acted, relatively entertaining, and entirely generic and forgettable. The film wrapped production in late 2019, then STXfilms sold the distribution rights to Paramount and Showtime. The film received a limited theatrical release in April 2022, while simultaneously debuting on Paramount Plus in the U.S. and Amazon Prime in international markets. The film tanked at the box office, making just over $2 million, cementing my belief that we will continue to see these generic action thrillers on streaming platforms instead of in theaters for years to come.
Dependable Chris Pine plays Special Forces Sergeant James Harper, whose bum knee and related steroid use get him discharged from the military. Drowning in debt and depressed, Harper reaches out to friend and former colleague Mike (Ben Foster), who has been conducting private, clandestine operations for Rusty (Kiefer Sutherland) on behalf of the Department of Defense. Rusty cuts Harper a check for $50,000 to support his family, and eventually sends him to Germany to tail a scientist (Fares Fares) believed to be an Al-Qaeda operative developing a bioweapon. Some of The Contractor's early scenes are pretty good: Harper wrestles with memories of his strict military father and his duty to country and family. He learns of a friend and fellow veteran's suicide while working on his roof at midnight, frightening wife Brianne (Gillian Jacobs), who fears Harper could meet the same fate. Once the film kicks into action mode, however, things get forgettable.
Pine and Foster, who previously appeared together in Hell or High Water, are a good match, though they do not have a ton of screen time together here. What could have been an interesting tale of deception and putting good soldiers out to pasture becomes a paint-by-numbers action film, complete with the typical nondescript, Eastern European villains toting guns through crowded downtown plazas. The audience is expecting Harper and Mike's mission to go south, but it does so in such an unoriginal and predictable way. Nothing in the plot comes as a surprise, and I spent most of the movie's middle half silently guessing what would happen next. The threadbare narrative is stretched to 103 minutes, but in the hands of a more skillful filmmaking team could have served as the opening act of a better, more interesting thriller.
The acting is competent across the board, with Pine teetering into hysterical anger during the climax. The supporting characters, including Mike and Rusty, are largely forgettable, and The Contractor does not achieve the emotional response it seeks involving scientist Salim's fate. The action, unsurprisingly, is competently staged but generic; no one sequence stands out as particularly exciting or memorable despite plenty of gunfire and vehicle chases. Perhaps a lack of ambition is The Contactor's biggest problem. Those looking for unassuming, older-school action entertainment on their streaming service of choice can give this one a spin with limited expectations.
THE 4K ULTRA HD:
Paramount provides an upscaled 2.39:1/2160p/HEVC/H.265 transfer with Dolby Vision and HDR10. This is a fine presentation, but certainly does not provide the reference-quality visuals of the format's best releases. Fine-object detail and texture are good, but this is a dark film. The film's daylight scenes are awash in detail, and the HDR pass certainly helps improve detail in the numerous dimly lit scenes. Colors are relatively subdued, highlights are kept in check, and blacks are inky and true. The film looks good in motion, and I did not notice any technical issues. This presentation may not knock your socks off, but it is certainly more than competent.
The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is impressive, offering robust action-effect response through the surrounds. Dialogue is crystal clear, ambient effects are omnipresent, and the action scenes garner strong LFE response. Gunfire is the most impressive sonic trick here, and it absolutely tears across the surrounds and into your living room. The score is appropriately layered, and no technical issues arise. English SDH and Spanish subtitles are included.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
No extras. The single-disc release arrives in a black case that is wrapped in a slipcover. A digital copy code is included.
If you are looking for a generic, forgettable action thriller, The Contractor may be the movie for you. Chris Pine, Ben Foster and Kiefer Sutherland star in this half-baked thriller about a Special Forces Sergeant who gets caught up in a messy private-sector mission. Rent It.
William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.