The Contractor, 2022.
Directed by Tarik Saleh.
Starring Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Gillian Jacobs, Eddie Marsan, Kiefer Sutherland, Florian Munteanu, Tait Fletcher, Fares Fares, Nina Hoss, J.D. Pardo, Amira Casar, Alexej Manvelov, Tyner Rushing, Sander Thomas, Nico Woulard, and Toby Dixon.
A discharged U.S. Special Forces sergeant, James Harper, risks everything for his family when he joins a private contracting organization.
“Isn’t your knee supposed to be damaged to the point of not being able to walk” popped into mind countless times while watching The Contractor. It is a story about private contractors unsure if it wants to be a serious exploration of American veteran struggles or a run-of-the-mill action flick. What is for sure is that it’s generically forgettable. At a certain point, director Tarik Saleh (using a script from J.P. Davis) drops any intentions of peering into the lives of the soldiers, whether it be their PTSD, depression, financial woes, physical injury, grieving comrades and attending who knows how many funerals, or marital strife, all in favor of becoming a familiar tale of doublecrossing and questioning one’s line of work.
It’s an unfortunate turn of events because there is something admirable regarding how The Contractor initially presents itself. Special Forces Sergeant James Harper (a flat Chris Pine) is discharged following an impromptu drug test that uncovers traces of HGH in his body, intended to offset a bum knee and keep the soldier cleared for active duty. As such, any lifetime benefits are promptly taken off the table, leaving the stability of his family life in jeopardy. James also reassures his wife (a thankless role for Gillian Jacobs) that you will not take on any unnecessary, dangerous work.
Once a soldier always a soldier, I suppose, as James’ former comrade in arms (Ben Foster, reuniting the dynamic Hell or High Water screen duo, which in the end, might be the only exciting element here) with a family and special needs son to provide for (yes, this is the kind of movie that sinks low to get viewers on the side of these characters about to engage in shady affairs) brings up private contracting opportunities within a group he claims to be morally good. Kiefer Sutherland plays the leader of this mercenary group, so right away, you know that will turn out to be a load of BS. Nevertheless, James doesn’t take much convincing, and the brothers in arms find themselves tracking down a Syrian biochemist located in Germany that they must steal data from.
It’s also not long before the mission is FUBAR, leaving James’ knee worse off and incapable of standing on his feet. He must find his way back to safety and uncover some apparent secrets. Again, the consistently baffling aspect here is that the filmmakers can’t make up their damn minds on whether the character should be broken and vulnerable or an espionage action hero. Despite the lack of logic, at least some hand-to-hand fight scenes and gunplay are tense and brutal. At times, The Contractor feels like someone trying to adapt a Tom Clancy video game, which is the only way to explain a character going from out of commission with a torn ACL to back on his feet kicking ass 10 minutes later (yes, someone does disinfect the knee, but it’s still outright absurd).
Of course, such strange credibility would be acceptable if The Contractor went anywhere compelling with its story of fractured brotherhood and American veterans cornered into challenging situations (when they should be focused on therapy above all else), but it takes one comical turn after another until it’s rushed climactic shootout. The narrative does start on critical subjects that need to be discussed among military veterans, but that doesn’t excuse it from descending into cliché stupidity.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com