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The Contractor review: A familiar firefight

The lethally adept soldier who finds himself questioning his loyalties when he’s forced to battle a corrupt threat from inside his own government is a role nearly every leading man in Hollywood has played at one point or another. Whether it’s John Cena’s rite of passage in The Marine, Mark Wahlberg’s mid-career layover in Shooter, or Matt Damon’s entire Jason Bourne franchise, the list of examples is long, and unfortunately, filled with more direct-to-video misses than box-office hits.

Director Tarik Saleh‘s action-thriller The Contractor has Star Trek actor Chris Pine giving it a go, casting him as a discharged Green Beret who finds himself fighting to survive and clear his name after a mission for a private contractor takes a bad turn.

Chris Pine stands in the shadows in a scene from The Contractor.

To his credit, Pine does an admirable job of carrying the film, which delivers a fairly predictable story of a soldier, James Harper, who finds himself abandoned by the country he devoted his life to and pushed into private military service in order to support his family. When a mission goes awry and James finds himself on the run and targeted for elimination by the same private firm that hired him, it calls into question everything he believed about his flag, his faith, and his priorities.

For audiences, though, it means plenty of gunfights, close-quarters combat scenes, frantic running, and close-up shots of James pondering his life. If any of that sounds familiar, that’s because The Contractor is yet another variation on a well-worn plot intended to showcase the lead actor’s talents as both action hero and dramatically conflicted protagonist, set against a backdrop of complicated themes the film never actually explores.

Fortunately, the film plays to Pine’s strengths. Perfectly capable with both the action sequences and the film’s more dramatic moments, he sells both elements well. Pine manages to be compelling and believable as a determined, desperate soldier who’s never known anything but military life, even as the story around him becomes increasingly brittle.

Although the film attempts to give Pine’s character more depth by contrasting James’ struggles with civilian family life to those of his father, a military man whose own inability to leave service behind traumatized his family, it never quite commits to that side of the character. Instead, The Contractor leans into the tactical military theater and choreographed violence of James’ predicament.

Subplots involving a miracle cure for a deadly bioweapon and the private firm’s mysterious connections to the U.S. government are also introduced to add additional layers of drama to the story, only to be forgotten as the story unfolds.

Chris Pine stands in uniform in a scene from The Contractor.

Still, Pine’s performance is supported by stable — if not exactly standout — performances from Ben Foster (Pandorum) as James’ best friend and Gillian Jacobs (Community) as James’ wife. They’re joined by Kiefer Sutherland delivering something akin to an older, sinister version of his 24 character, Jack Bauer, as the leader of the private firm that hired James.

While The Contractor doesn’t deliver much in the way of surprises, fans of this particular sub-genre of action-thrillers might enjoy the film’s by-the-numbers take on a well-worn narrative. In many ways, it harkens back to a point in the mid-’80s when studios were churning out a flood of similarly themed films, casting any male actor with a pulse as a damaged war hero mistreated by the government and forced to rely on his lethal training for one reason or another. The Contractor is more complex than most of those films, certainly, but it comes from a similar place in the genre.

Predictable and efficient, but disappointingly shallow, The Contractor is exactly the sort of film you expect it to be, without offering anything more.

Paramount Pictures’ The Contractor is available now in theaters and via on-demand streaming.

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