Wednesday, September 15, 2010

'The Contract' is not worth working for

The Contract (2006)
Starring: Morgan Freeman, John Cusack, and Jamie Anderson
Director: Bruce Beresford
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

A top assassin (Freeman), stranded in the Washington backwoods, ends up in the custody of Ray (Cusack), a retired police officer who wants to reconnect with and impress his young son (Anderson). Will Ray manage to bring the killer to the authorities, or will the rest of the hit team catch with up him first?

"The Contract" isn't a bad movie, but it isn't exactly a good one, either. The plot is one that's been done a dozen times over, the "twists" are all predictable because they too have been done a dozen times over characters are cliches that only come to life due to the excellent work of the actors portraying them... but even the best actor can make up for the fact that every action the characters take seem dictated by plot needs rather than common sense. It's the sort of film that's worth watching if you come across it late at night on television and can't sleep. It's not worth going out of your way for, though.

The best thing about the film is actually Morgan Freeman. He plays the cold-blooded, practical, and well-spoken sociopath very well... although he's had plenty of practice, given that this is the third or fourth time he's played that character. Freeman is interesting enough of an actor that he manages to make hit man Frank Carden interesting and likable, even if the character is as written is as dull as they come, and he is the villain of the piece; not the main villain, but certainly not a character the viewer is supposed to be as sympathetic toward as we are.

Our sympathies should lie with Ray, the father struggling to keep his son from "going bad" and the struggling to keep everyone alive. Unfortunately, Ray is such a dunderhead--being the main factor that keeps some fairly simple resolutions to the storyline from being enacted, no matter how sensible they might be--and John Cusack plays the part like he's asleep half the time, so Ray ends up feeling like a non-entity, exactly like the troubled single father stereotype he's written as.

Where Freeman seems to give his character life beyond the page, Cusack never seems to rise above the workman-like script. So, with a perceptive man of steel on one hand, and a dimwitted dish rag on the other, it's no wonder that we like Freeman's character over Cusack's. (And, of course, in the end, Freeman's character turns out to be not such a bad guy after all... because hit men are murderers with honor and hearts of gold in the world of movie stereotypes.)

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