December 10, 2016

Mark Wahlberg’s “Contraband” – Security guards are people too!

By Scott Mendelson

HollywoodNews.com: As a whole, Contraband is a pretty unremarkable would-be thriller. There is almost no real action, and much of the middle act is a series of monotonous scenes of Kate Beckinsale being threatened and/or beaten by Giovanni Ribisi. While Ribisi’s character felt the need to continually antagonize Mark Wahlberg’s family after Wahlberg has already agreed to do the crime in question is to be debated, since you’d think you wouldn’t want to antagonize the professional criminal who is being entrusted with your precious cargo. Anyway, Wahlberg is the classic ‘former criminal gone straight’ archetype, complete with a loving wife and kids. If I my spoil the not-so shocking ending of the picture (…SPOILER WARNING…), Contraband ends on a mostly happy note, with Wahlberg having gotten away with the crime, protected his family (including his imperiled brother-in-law), and scored a large amount of capital for himself and his crew. And even though Wahlberg’s character is actually an accessory to a mid-film heist that ends in the wanton murder of about half-a-dozen people, he’s still an okay guy. After all, they were just security guards.

The first girl I dated in college was a young woman whose father was a security driver for some financial institution or another. I never met the man, but if I ever had I would have been tempted to ask him about how those in his profession are treated like absolutely expendable bugs on a windshield. Starting with Die Hard (where Alexander Godunov popped two guards at the very start of the Nakatomi Plaza takeover) and continuing through any number of Die Hard rip-offs over the last 24 years, few action films about terrorists are complete without an opening siege that sees the point-blank execution of any number of security people as the villains make their way to their base of hostage-taking/weapons-hijacking. And almost never are these hapless souls actually mourned by anyone else in the picture. Half the time they are literally forgotten as the film gets into gear. And what of their expendability in various hard-boiled crime pictures? We hear over and over again how top-notch Robert De Niro’s heist team is in Michael Mann’s Heat. Yet the first time we see them pull a job, they end up having to whack all three truck guards purely to show that Kevin Gage is kinda crazy (note – this also happens in Mann’s 1987 film LA Takedown, which Heat is a remake of). Last time I checked, unless you were a terrorist or a hit-man, I’m pretty sure your reputation as a professional criminal was judged by how few corpses you left behind and, as is the case here, how well you chose your associates. But because the people whom De Niro’s crew bumps off are security guards as opposed to cops and/or traditionally innocent bystanders, they retain their ‘expert criminals’ ranking until they start screw up their big downtown LA bank robbery at the end of act two. Even more disconcerting is when the hero of a film slaughters such security personal as indiscriminately as the bad guys, but keeps their nobility because it’s for a ‘just cause’ (think The Matrix or Prince of Persia).

Not every dead body has to be accounted for in every action film or crime drama. Not every slain member of the ‘good guys’ requires a funeral. But the sheer brazenness in which the security guard above all other classifications of people in film, is randomly and brutally murdered without consequence is and always has been a bit disconcerting. It’s basically a cheap tactic to amp up the body count without killing any major characters or too many hostages over the course of the film. When ‘heroes’ like Contraband’s Mark Wahlberg escape legal culpability or even moral denouncement when they stand by without commentary while their buddies commit such murders, when films like Live Free Or Die Hard feature the point-blank execution of countless such security personal while keeping its PG-13 rating, when any number of films both good and bad (Speed, Hellboy, Demolition Man, etc) treat such murders as ‘no big deal’, the message being sent is that bank guards, armored truck drivers and other such protectors don’t really count as full-fledged human beings on the scale of movie morality. Thus ends the pet peeve of the day… Feel free to share your thoughts below. Do you know anyone who works in security and if so, have they ever complained about the large-scale body count that their profession has racked up onscreen?

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About Scott Mendelson

Mendelson's Memos: The basics - 30 years old, married with one child, currently residing in Woodland Hills, CA. I am simply a longtime film critic and pundit of sorts, especially in the realm of box office. The main content will be film reviews, trailer reviews, essays, and box office analysis and comparison. I also syndicate myself at The Huffington Post and Open Salon. I will update as often as my schedule allows. Yes, I'm on Facebook/Twitter/LinkIn, so feel free to find me there. All comments are appreciated, just be civil and try to keep a level discourse, as I will make every effort to do the same. Read more at Mendelson's Memos:

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One Comment

  • January 22, 2012 | Permalink |

    This issue in films has always bothered me. Two movies that I think did a great job with it, Monty Python’s Holy Grail (In the end the police arrest Lancelot for his random murders during a killing spree, all hilarious of course) and the Town (As you said, a true professional’s pride should be no blood shed, and they did their best not to start a fire fight, and anyone who was killed by them, in my opinion, certainly didnt look like dispensable non-humans).

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