Any excuse to see Ben Foster and Chris Pine team up is a good one. In particular, their collaboration on Hell or High Water is incredible. So, knowing they were going to be reuniting for another project, curiosity for The Contractor was high. Unfortunately, while there are numerous hints of a truly interesting film, this plays closer to the sort of genre fare you’d see playing randomly one night on cable. The movie needs more Foster, Pine is giving a bit of a bland character, and the deeper themes potentially in play never bubble to the surface. This is the very definition of something that leaves you wanting more. It’s mostly efficient yet ultimately generic.
The Contractor comes close to being recommendation worthy. There’s decent action on display and the plight of discarded soldiers is worth exploring. This is just not the film do it. Lip service is paid to the themes hinted at, and it’s frustrating. Something better is buried here, which is a shame, since the cast is in place to raise that all up.
Military life is in the blood of James Harper (Pine). His father bred him to be a soldier, so it’s no surprise that he’s become a decorated member of Special Forces. When a life of service is abruptly brought to an end by his superior officers, James is in a bind. His family needs money, though his wife Brianne (Gillian Jacobs) is ardently opposed to private contractor work. At the funeral of a fellow soldier, James’ best friend Mike (Foster) gives him the lowdown on his gig. Mike works for Rusty (Kiefer Sutherland), the head of a private contracting organization purporting to be different than the rest. Rusty sells him on the honor of the company, as well as the paycheck, and James signs on. The mission assigned him is supposed to be safe, short, and simple.
Of course, the job quickly goes all wrong. Tasked with observing a scientist (Fares Fares) seemingly developing a bioweapon, James, Mike, and Katia (Nina Hoss) see the job turn into an assassination. Then, they’re compromised, resulting in James having to go off the grid. Were they double-crossed? Has James accidentally gone to work for the bad guys? What does Mike have to do with all of this. There are answers, most of which are obvious, but they never turn out to be particularly interesting.
Chris Pine is a strong action hero, as well as a movie star, but this role is a bit on the thin side. Pine tries to make the most of it, but there’s only so much he can do. Ben Foster has a similarly underwritten part, but he infuses more personality into his character. Frankly, it would have been interesting to have seen them switch parts. That being said, they again display tremendous chemistry. The best scenes are the ones in which they share the screen. Gillian Jacobs is absolutely wasted in a typical worried wife role, while Kiefer Sutherland is fine, if under-utilized. In addition to the aforementioned Fares Fares and Nina Hoss, the supporting cast includes a small role for Eddie Marsan.
Director Tarik Saleh and writer J.P. Davis seem unsure of the movie they’ve set out to make. Do they want this to be an action flick? Is it a political thriller? Maybe it’s a condemnation of how we treat our soldiers/veterans? The answer is all of the above and none of the above. The Contractor takes steps in each direction, but Davis and Saleh then retreat to the middle, dooming it to a lack of an identity.
The Contractor is a lesser pairing of Chris Pine and Ben Foster. There’s good stuff here, though not quite enough to warrant a recommendation. If you’re a big Pine fan, you’ll want to see him with a new leading role. Otherwise, this is the sort of thing that plays better on cable than as a new release. It’s fine, but fine is not good enough, considering the talent on display.