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  • Writer's pictureMatt Conway

The Contractor: Review

The Contractor Synopsis: Involuntarily discharged from the Army, James Harper (Chris Pine), a special forces sergeant, lands a contract with a private underground military force. When his very first assignment goes awry, the elite soldier finds himself hunted and on the run, caught in a dangerous conspiracy and fighting to stay alive long enough to get home and uncover the true motives of those who betrayed him.

After dedicating his livelihood to the military, a beatdown special forces agent receives a sudden discharge from the one career he’s ever known. Left with a ruptured knee and none of his pension expenses, James suddenly finds himself in the murky underworld of gun-for-hire jobs in The Contractor.

If the premise reads like your average bargain bin actioner, that’s because The Contractor embodies the genre’s penchant for frenetic action scenes and straightforward plotting at nearly every turn. Fortunately for viewers, director Tarik Saleh infuses the time-honored formula with some much-needed agency. Saleh crafts an agreeable-enough man-on-the-run thriller – a sturdy, workmanlike offering that occasionally rises above its cliched action movie husk.

The Contractor operates at its best when digging into the trenches of its real-world subject matter. James’ descent into post-service emptiness reflects a far-too-commonplace reality for soldiers, a profession that strives for efficiency and disposability at the compromise of the underlying human costs. When Saleh and J.P. Davis get an opportunity to slow the pace, the duo articulates post-service struggles with empathy and genuine insights into their subjects.

It helps that the A-list cast manifests humanity into their well-worn archetypes. I can’t gush enough about Chris Pine and his versatile skillset, with the actor boasting instant movie-star gravity and emotional authenticity in every role he embodies. As James, Pine enriches his cold and calculated protagonist by intimately exploring the lingering traumas from his life-long existence in the military. The actor skillfully unfolds the character’s precise presence throughout as his simmering emotions lead to a startling revelation. Supporting players Ben Foster, Kiefer Sutherland, and Gillian Jacobs also work wonders in elevating their bare-bones roles.

Still, The Contractor can’t help feeling like two dissident films battling it out for the viewers’ attention. The timely ideals entrenched into the screenplay resonant on a human and societal level, but Saleh and Davis seem more interested in playing to the action genre’s disposable nature. Far too often, the duo implements didactic dialogue exchanges and schmaltzy melodrama in a way that undercuts the potency of James’ real-world struggles.

Analyzing the film on an action movie front, The Contractor is merely acceptable. I appreciate Saleh for his lack of showy stylistic tricks. His steady framing choices and lack of intrusive score allow viewers to soak up the tension of each small-scale encounter. However, the director and his team aren’t exactly reinventing the wheel here. Most of the shootouts feel derivative in their construction, while the lack of meaningful gore robs the setpieces of the inherent brutality The Contractor tries to convey.

It’s admittedly a mixed bag, but I give props to The Contractor for occasionally rising above its familiar construction. If viewers take away anything from this film, it’s sure to be an additional appreciation for Chris Pine’s distinct abilities.


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