Judge Katie Herrell once put a contract out on Judge David Johnson, but we were able to work things out internally with anger management classes.
"Every Killer Meets His Equal"
The movie The Contract watches like a Carl Hiaasen novel reads. There's those characters that are unequivocally bad, but then there's a whole slew of characters that could lean either way. There's a beautiful nature setting, which can, and does, turn into man's worst nightmare. And then there's the man-made devices meant to make life easier and more fulfilling, but which seem to cause more harm than good. All of these elements are at play in The Contract.
Facts of the Case
Morgan Freeman plays Frank Cardin, a hit man with an undetermined boss and undetermined morals (watching the opening scene again after the film either further muddles those morals or makes them more clear). He has a loyal band of thieves, plus one newcomer who turns out to be on several payrolls. While on assignment Frank falls victim to his own plot and winds up in the hospital handcuffed to the bed. High on the political arena's most-wanted list, Frank is en-route to his comeuppance when his comrades bungle his rescue attempt. It is in the Washington state woods that Ray Keene (John Cusack) and his son Chris (Jamie Anderson), on a father-son camping trip, stumble across Frank and begin a journey both would swap a little city-slicking fighting (the reason for their wilderness adventure) for in a second.
Watching the always-divine Morgan Freeman in The Contract felt very familiar. That's probably because the same year Freeman made this movie (2006), he also made Lucky Number Slevin and played a very similar role (although I'm sure Freeman would beg to differ).
That's not to say Freeman was an improper choice for this movie. He has that wonderful smirking look that can mean so many things. And he plays intelligent like he is intelligent. There's a bit of Jason Bourne in his character and a bit of Captain Jack and a bit of The Godfather. He is commanding and sinister, yet thoughtful and likely well-read.
In essence, Freeman's character is like so many movie bad guys who are sitting on the fence between good and evil. They are almost always fascinating to watch, and that's usually because they test the mores of the viewer: Can you really like a killer?
I certainly hope that Freeman does not make the thoughtful killer his go-to role, or that at least he'll allow more time between such similar characters. But I do hope that filmmaking takes note of his opening murder scene which involves a truck and a shove and is the most shocking yet least grisly kill I've ever seen on the silver screen.
In many ways this movie, like any good beach read, is quite predictable, yet it's still a page turner. And that's sort of how I feel about John Cusack as an actor. I'm really not sure if he acts, per se, but rather he appears to have stumbled onto the movie set and decided to play along. Every once in a while he seems to glance up and go, "Oh, I'm in a movie," grin, and then back to straight lips.
Cusack never really seems to emote, but he always comes across as caring. The pink breast cancer bracelet his character wears and his concern over his son's pot-smoking seem filled with realistic fatigue. The house that Ray and Jamie live in seems more well-worn than any movie house. And it's not too well-worn like some, or too-stylised like others. It actually looks like an honest, middle-class house—a rarity in movies.
But just because Cusack plays the grieving widower, high school gym teacher role doesn't mean he automatically falls into the good guy character of this film. He is a good guy, but he's also an ex-cop with a dead wife, so he's got some baggage.
And out in the neutralizing elements of the Washington woods all sides of all characters come out to play (or survive rather). Ray wields a gun with vigor (and maybe pleasure), and Frank protects Jamie from death several times.
And even when the choppers and the corrupt politicians and the local sheriff portrayed as a bumbling hick come into the picture the movie still draws your attention probably because the question is always lingering: Who is the good guy here and who is the bad?
Plus it is the choppers and the vast Washington scenery that really distinguish this movie as a high-budget one. What the initial death scene lacks in special effects the spectacular chopper crash more than makes up for. The crash takes the legs off the chopper, literally, and despite the fact that everyone unbelievably lives, the nose dive and skid landing are a testament to the progress of modern cinematography, special effects and audio capabilities. No apparent corners were cut in this film.
The special feature, "Inside The Contract" would have been an ideal place to explain how these special effects were carried out. And while there are behind-the-scenes pictures of, say the car crash that lands Frank in the hospital, and some inside details about the rigors of shooting in the wilderness, the majority of this special feature is spent verbally praising everyone else. Fast forward.
The closing scene, one of those quintessential, insert sequel here sort of scenes, is a culmination of all the opposing forces in the film. It's not violent and it's not sudden but it is a smack in the face and a high-five at the same time. It's a satisfying beach read that you may or may not share with your book club for fear of been considered un-literary, but which just provides what everyone seeks from a beach read, be it in book or film form: an escape.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
While the critic in me applauds the fact that this movie only hinted at a romantic sub-plot, the cliched beach reader in me feels like part of the formula was missing.
Just because this movie wasn't a box-office smash doesn't mean it isn't a great action-packed rental. But you will feel like you've seen already seen it a dozen times.
Hung jury. Can every killer really meet his equal?
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Scales of Justice
Studio: First Look Pictures
• Inside The Contract Documentary
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