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While on a hiking trip to reconnect with his son, Ray Keene (John Cusack) stumbles into a nightmare scenario of paid assassins and ex-military guns-for-hire. Frank Cardin (Morgan Freeman) is attempting to fulfill a contract to assassinate a high profile businessman when things go awry and he ends up in the custody of the U.S. Marshalls. After an ill-fated attempt by his com[patriots to free him, Frank finds himself in the custody of ex-lawman Ray and his son (Jamie Anderson). As they try to make their way back to civilization they are relentlessly pursued by Frank's friends who are intent on freeing their leader in order to collect on the contract. But one may be more foe than friend.
For more about The Contract and the The Contract Blu-ray release, see the The Contract Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on January 21, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.0 out of 5.
Director: Bruce Beresford
Writers: Stephen Katz, John Darrouzet, J.D. Zeik
Starring: Morgan Freeman, John Cusack, Jamie Anderson (I), Alice Krige, Megan Dodds, Corey Johnson (I)
» See full cast & crew
The Contract Blu-ray Review
A direct-to-video bomb with some surprisingly high profile stars.
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, January 21, 2010
"I've got a bad feeling about this," said Han Solo, and I imagine that's what director Bruce Beresford was thinking while filming The Contract, a convoluted thriller that eventually skipped theaters altogether and made its way unceremoniously straight to video. Beresford has made a number of good films—he did Tender Mercies, Driving Miss Daisy, and Black Robe, among others—but something went drastically wrong with The Contract. In his humorously titled 2007 memoir Josh Hartnett Definitely Wants To Do This…True Stories from a Life in the Screen Trade, Beresford details the problems that plagued the film, from his hesitancies about the confusing script, to his producers, who shut down production after fifty days and basically forced Beresford to finish the movie using money out of his own pocket. A bad feeling, indeed. And it comes through in the film, which loses any thematic coherency it may have had in the fogginess of its own plotline and the indecision of Beresford's direction. I can't decide what's worse: John Cusack and Morgan Freeman wasting their talents slumming through this troubled production, or having to sit through it myself. Okay, I'm hyperbolizing. They have to live with this bomb on their filmographies for the rest of their lives; I just lost an afternoon. Still, I'm sure you know how I feel.
"It's on," says Freeman in the film's first line, a line that implies some crazy, badass stuff is about to go down. The implication is unfortunately never realized. Freeman plays Frank Carden, a former military man turned assassin-for-hire who has assembled what amounts to a misanthropic version of The A-Team, a cadre of M.I.A mercenaries who "eliminate" so-called "obstacles to progress" for high-powered clients. Seriously, what's up with villains using euphemisms for what it is that they actually do? Anyway, Frank gets busted by local cops after a hit-gone-bad, but while he's being transported through rural Washington State by a U.S. marshal, his gang of snipers, trackers, and tech-heads busts him out of custody in an oh-so-clever ruse. (Oh wait, actually, they just open fire.) When Frank gets separated from his men, he's captured by Ray Keene (John Cusack), a former cop-turned-gym teacher who conveniently happens to be hiking in this remote wilderness with his son Chris (Jamie Anderson), a teen who hasn't quite gotten over the loss of his mother to cancer two years prior. Ray is the dogged sort, out to prove to himself that he can do this, so he marches Frank at gunpoint over the river and through the woods—and over some boulders and into a cave, etc.—in hopes of getting back to civilization and turning the soft-spoken assassin in to authorities. Of course, Frank's men—one of whom is a tracker "trained in Australia by Aborigines"—are never more than a few steps behind.
It's a paint-by-the-numbers plot if ever there was one, but director Bruce Beresford can't seem to color inside the lines. Really, it's a mess. There's paint everywhere. Like, someone should've put down a tarp or something. What could have been a simple, possibly powerful thriller about two men, a boy, and a bunch of assassins in hot pursuit, is endlessly and needlessly complicated by the addition of extraneous characters and plotlines that do little but distract from the drama at hand. "Hold on," the film seems to say, "we need a Bourne Identity-style government conspiracy. I know, let's throw in an elite intelligence agent and a possible plot to kill the president!" But wait, there's more! "Oh, I got it, how about we have Frank and Ray and Chris run into a bickering couple, that way we can kill off the guy and have a ready and willing romantic interest for Cusack!" Perfect. "And one more thing—what if we cut periodically to a bunch of bumbling local cops, who don't really have anything to do in the film but eat donuts and bitch about the FBI taking over their case?" Who needs film school when you could just watch The Contract on repeat? The surrounding characters are stock clichés, an aimless, unsure quality pervades the whole shebang, and the plot—or plots, I should say, as the film takes more roundabout routes than a crooked taxi driver—is filled with gaping holes that no amount of cinematic caulking can fill.
I feel sorry for Bruce Beresford, who seems to have been dealt an impossibly bad hand. I suppose he does his best with the lousy material, but the merely competent action scenes—the only real reason to watch this snoozer—can't make up for the flat attempts at characterization and the laughable dialogue ("Don't enter any charm auditions, you'll never make the cut."). Watching Cusack and Freeman slog through their performances is like watching a tired man shoveling his driveway—he's just trying to get to the end. They never lose their professionalism—Freeman, specifically, is as owlish and wry as ever—but you can tell their hearts just aren't in it. And I'd rather not even begin to talk about the performances of the ancillary characters, who seem drawn from some school acting that values hammy delivery. I guess the best thing that I can say about The Contract is that if I were sick in bed, with the remote on the other side of the room, I probably wouldn't exert the energy to get up and turn it off. It's passable as there's nothing else on TV and it's 3 a.m. entertainment, but I can't give any endorsements beyond that.
The Contract Blu-ray, Video Quality
If there's one plus to the mess that is The Contract, it's that the film looks excellent on Blu-ray, featuring a 1080p/VC-1 transfer that's crisp, colorful, and free of any technical troubles. You'll notice straight away that there's a great sense of overall clarity. All of those moles, freckles, and lines on Morgan Freeman's iconic face are reproduced with fine detail, tree trunks are composed of sharp lines—without any trace of edge enhancement—and even the toppings of cops' donuts pop in high definition. As much of the film takes place in a Pacific Northwestern forest, the transfer's strong color palette is comprised of verdant greens, rich browns, and other earthy hues. Skin tones look natural too, if a little yellowish at times. Toward the end of the film there's some really artificial-looking day-for-night shots—you know, the kind where they use a deep blue filter—but you can't really blame the transfer for this. Thankfully, as there is a lot of darkness in the film, black levels are plenty deep without crushing shadow detail, and contrast on the whole is tight, especially during the daylight scenes. Grain is apparent but very minimal, and I didn't spot and blocking, banding, smearing, or ringing. It's definitely not enough to change my opinion of the film in any way, but The Contract looks great for a straight-to-video offering.
The Contract Blu-ray, Audio Quality
On the audio side of things, The Contract's Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track could stand to be a little beefier, but it's still a more than adequate affair. And the film does have a couple of what you might call "showpiece" audio moments during a few of the bigger action sequences. During an early car accident, metal smashes against metal, twisting and screeching, while glass shatters and sprays all over the pavement. Later, when a helicopter crashes into the forest, its rotor blades shoot through the rear speakers as tree branches crack and splinter. The surround channels come to life frequently throughout the film; thunder rolls and buckets of rain pound heavily into the foliage, a river flows around us, and insects buzz while birds chirp in every conceivable direction. It's all balanced competently, both the action and the quieter moments, and I don't think I touched my remote control once during the film. Dialogue is unproblematic as well, sounding clean and natural throughout. Normand Corbell's score is entirely forgettable—standard thriller movie fare—but it's at least bombastic and sounds relatively full. It could be more aggressive, but really, I've got no overt complaints about this track.
The Contract Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Inside The Contract (SD, 21:28)
This is a fairly typical behind-the-scenes documentary that features lots of on-set footage and interviews with everyone involved. It's quite telling, though, that while the producers are trying much too hard to seem extremely enthused about the project here, Morgan Freeman, John Cusack, and director Bruce Beresford are much more reserved in expressing their satisfaction. I'd be trying to save face too, I guess.
Includes trailers for The Contract, Transsiberian, Sukiyaki Western Django, Meet Bill, and War, Inc.
The Contract Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Someone should do a TV series called When Good Films Go Bad, a reality show that follows directors and cast and crew members on the troubled sets of failing films. The Contract would've made a perfect pilot episode—it's got big stars, a reputable director, and it tanks miserably. On the upside, the very small upside, The Contract looks and sounds pretty good on Blu-ray. Is it worth a rental? That depends on how much you like Freeman and Cusack, but I'd say no.
The Contract: Other Editions
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The Contract Blu-ray, News and Updates
• First Look Announces The Contract and More - July 31, 2008
First Look Home Entertainment has announced that they will bring the Morgan Freeman and John Cusack film 'The Contract' to Blu-ray on October 28th. Also revealed is that they will bring both the 2008 remake of 'Day of the Dead' and the 2004 Belgium film 'Immortal' ...
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