Chris Pine gets to flex his action-thriller muscles in “The Contractor”, the new film from Swedish director Tarik Saleh. The movie is Saleh’s English language big screen debut and it sees Pine as an ex-military special forces soldier (aren’t they all in these things) who joins a private contracting outfit with his best buddy played by Ben Foster. But as you can probably guess, the two end up in over the heads in what unfortunately turns out a fairly conventional and predictable story.
Written by J.P. Davis, “The Contractor“ seems to struggle with an identity crisis. The story kicks off with promise and positions itself as a stinging examination of the United States government’s treatment of military veterans. But the further it goes down the genre route the more it loses its relevance. And as an action movie, Saleh never fully gets the film off the ground. So it isn’t as pertinent as it tries to be or as kinetic as it wants to be.
Pine plays James Harper, a soldier out of Fort Bragg who we first meet as he rehabs from a knee injury. But when steroids used to speed up his recovery show up in his blood work, his unit’s new commanding officer kicks him out, granting James an honorable discharge but stripping him of his pension and healthcare. “They’re cleaning house,” a more sympathetic officer tells James. “You made it easy for them.“
As unpaid bills mount back home, James begins to reconsider his pledge not to take contract work. Desperate for cash and despite the concerns of his wife Brianne (Gillian Jacobs), James lets his buddy and fellow vet Mike (Ben Foster) set up a meeting with Rusty Jennings (Kiefer Sutherland), a private contractor who does jobs globally for the United States government. You know, the covert, ‘no one can know about them’ kind. “We import and export coffee,“ Jennings says in the most unconvincing fashion.
James and Mike are sent to Berlin where they’re tasked with doing a lot more than moving coffee. What starts as surveillance of a big-shot bio-engineer and virologist (Fares Fares) leads to James running for his life. This is where the predictability kicks in. And while the movie tries to throw a couple of twists into the mix, nothing catches us by surprise and the tension never gets above room temperature.
The movie teases more layers to James such as his desire to escape from the shadow of his hardened military father and (as mentioned above) the failings of the government towards our military vets. Sadly, the film never does much with those angles. And the idea of a husband and father trying to get back to his wife and son should carry a certain emotional connection for the audience. But even that is tepid at best.
“The Contractor” ends up being a movie that can’t quite build the momentum or the emotional stakes that it needs to sell us on its story. The capable cast deliver solid performances, but there’s only so much they can do. Outside of a few early table-setting scenes and one particularly well-shot action sequence, the story mostly sits in neutral. And that’s a shame because there’s a lot of potential here that’s never met. “The Contractor” is out now in select theaters and on VOD.