The Contractor

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There's a great movie to be made about military contractors. These groups, run privately and usually comprised of veterans, have operated on the fringes for a long time. The public rarely knows what they do. As Blackwater taught the world, their actions can sometimes be massively unethical. Plenty of drama is inherent in that situation. The Contractor, for unknown reasons, chooses to take the subject and plug it into the most generic thriller plot imaginable. The movie exists in total deju vu territory.

James Harper (Chris Pine) is a former Special Forces soldier who has been discharged against his will. With bills mounting and his pension in jeopardy, he has no clue how he'll support his family. A solution presents itself when friend/colleague Mike (Ben Foster) offers to introduce him to Rusty Jennings (Kiefer Sutherland), the owner of a private military contracting firm. Rusty promises the job he has is quick, easy, and totally above-board. It involves going to Berlin to steal data from a scientist with bioterrorism plans. James signs on, against the protestations of wife Brianne (Gillian Jacobs, utterly wasted in a one-dimensional “worried wife” role).

From there, the clichés start piling up. The mission is not what it was made out to be. The “bad guy” is doing something quite different from what James was told. Rusty has ulterior motives. People James thought he could trust turn out to be unworthy of that trust. And then there's the creaky old bit where our hero becomes a target after uncovering information he wasn't meant to have.

With that last piece of the puzzle in place, The Contractor proceeds to become yet another “patsy on the run” story like The Firm, Enemy of the State, Minority Report, Three Days of the Condor, and dozens of similar movies that it's nowhere near as good as. The formula can work when it has a fresh angle or a willingness to deep-dive into its subject. This film has neither. It merely hauls out the old familiar hits one more time, executing them in rote fashion.

As a result of over-familiarity, every single plot twist can be seen coming from a mile away. Creating suspense is impossible when the audience knows where the story is going before it gets there. As the second act transitions into the third, there's a pointless detour where James ends up in a safe house. There, he forms a bond with another ex-military type, played by Eddie Marsan. It's a beat that stops the film's already-weak momentum dead in its tracks.

Pine, Foster, and Sutherland are all good in their roles, and the intermittent action sequences are effectively staged by director Tarik Saleh. Those factors keep The Contractor watchable. However, the movie as a whole has nothing new to say about military contractors. These often-shadowy organizations are simply a gimmick, here to be plugged into a thriller template that's already been done to death. What a wasted opportunity.

out of four

The Contractor is rated R for violence and language. The running time is 1 hour and 43 minutes.