Thus far, Wesley Snipes output of DTV flicks has been somewhat poor in quality. That would be the polite way to describe dreck like The Detonator and The Marksman anyway. However, his last flick, Hard Luck, re-teaming with his New Jack City director, Mario Van Peebles, was at least watchable. It was a bit all over the place sure, but Snipes gave a performance of some interest. The Contractor is most certainly, Wes's finest DTV action flick so far. That's not to say it's particularly great, but on an overall scale, it's about on a par with Van Damme's, The Hard Corps.
The plot is in part similar to Mark Wahlberg's recent flick, The Shooter, and also Leon. It's the Leon part of the story that works best in this film, while the usual hokey espionage and agency double crossing is the main ingredient on the Shooter side of this film. Snipes is an ex-sniper called in to do a job and ends up being left to take the fall for his employers, who also want to dispose of Snipes now. Following his assignment and initial run in with the law, Wesley holes up in a safe house, where he meets Emily, a tenacious and troubled young girl, who is neighbours with the safe houses owner. She helps James Dial (Snipes) recuperate from a gunshot, while also helping him avoid capture. The relationship between Dial and Emily could have wrecked the movie with inconceivability, however it works.
This is where the film's main strength lies, the cast. Wesley for a start puts in the effort. He's not dialling this one in, like previous roles. He gives the role extra dimension. The cast, for a DTV film, is also blessed with recognisable names. Lena Headey is good, and hot, and Charles Dance and Ralph Brown also appear to add class. The real star here though is young actress Eliza Bennett, who plays Emily. It's so rare that young actors can really immerse themselves in a role, and be totally natural on screen. We've seen it countless times in even the biggest flicks, that young actors given important roles just cannot act. I give you Jake Lloyd as an example, or the Harry Potter kids (from the first two flicks at least, while even now they only border on competent). But Bennett is a real star in the making, oozing potential and an amazing amount of gravitas for someone so young. She is her character, and we never have to make account for her being a young actor playing a role out of her range. She has a good role that she not only does extremely well, but I imagine, created much of herself. We're talking on the same playing field as Haley Joel Osment, Dakota Fanning, Freddie Highmore. She'll be huge I predict. Indeed I think Wesley would have appreciated having someone with real, genuine talent to work off. It's a role that requires maturity and immersion, and because Bennett becomes her character so effectively, she and Snipes can work off each other so well. To think a DTV could have pulled a gem out the hat like this is quite something. By past occurrence, Snipes should have been acting opposite a lump of infantile, irksome, wood.
One failing of the film lies at the feet of director Josef Rusnak. His aping of Tony Scott is problematic. The constant hand-cranking of the camera and blitzkrieg editing, just gets painful, and the action is a mixture of competent, neat scenes, and real misfires, such as a strobe lighting shootout. As for hand to hand fisticuffs, Snipes has one brief fight, which is really well done. A bit more of that would have been better than the somewhat underfinanced gunfights. Still there's a few good foot and car chases here, while the UK locales make a change from the DTV norm of Eastern Europe (Though there's still some fairly blatant Bulgaria moments here). The score isn't too bad either. It's neither memorable, exciting, nor is it irritating or grating. Overall a decent DTV effort. Worth a watch if only to marvel at a shockingly decent cast for such a film. Look out for Bennett in the future too. **1/2
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