Review – Scotty, Two to Beam Up (“The Contractor”)

There’s usually a reason they pair up certain actors a second time. Bogart & Bacall, Hanks & Ryan, Farrell & O’Reilly, to name a few. And if you saw Chris Pine & Ben Foster in Hell or High Water, then you know what I’m talking about.

Ever seem to have one of those days? You know the kind; one of those clichéd days where you’ve just lost your job, the bills are way past due, your family is in deep doo-doo, and you’ll take any work that’s out there, even if it’s questionable? Well, that’s the sorta day U.S. Army Ranger Special Forces Sgt. James Harper (Pine) is facing. Sure, he’s got exceptional skills, but the Army doesn’t like him doping because of his bad knee, so out he goes. Broke and desperate, he gets a welcome call from his brother-in-arms, former Army bestie, Mike (Foster). And boy, does Mike have a deal for James!

He hooks James up with a special off-the-books group of mercenaries, run by Rusty Jennings (Keifer Sutherland) at a place called The Ranch. These guys do covert black ops for big bucks and James is brought in a nice $50K job in Berlin. Just a quick recon of a German scientist/chemist named Salim Mohamed Mohsin (Fares Fares) who they’re told has links to Al-Qaeda. A simple two-week assignment. . . what could possibly go wrong? Well, quicker than you can say, “You’re screwed”, their assignment goes very south and the mission is compromised.

Mike and James, injured and on the run in Berlin, are looking for a way back home. They agree to split up and try to find their own way back, but James is facing some tough times as his old knee injury isn’t helping things. That, plus the fact, he’s being shot at from everywhere. This is where the second act of the movie turns into a pure Jason Bourne movie, right down to the meticulous details and perils James must overcome, plus his mad skills play a factor in it as well. While all this is happening, he discovers a shocking truth (much like Jason finding out about Treadstone) and seeks revenge.

Screenwriter J.P. Davis, who has only written two other forgettable films (Fighting Tommy Riley, The Neighbor), must’ve seen those other films because seriously, with a few tweaks, this could easily have been another Bourne film. It follows nearly the same ticks and beats, only this one starts with a slow burn, first-act character study, then into a pulse-pounding second and third act. And ya gotta give Davis credit for NOT making the dialogue cheap or dumb, like those straight-to-DVD movies. It’s smart, real, and full of intrigue. Aside from a major plot hole, the story (while done already) had me glued to my seat.

What’s surprising is the director, Tarik Saleh, whose only done music videos, docs, small films, and one movie you never heard of (Tommy). Yet, he has a strong directorial approach that is like David Leich or Paul Greengrass. Just a rough, meat ‘n’ potatoes filmmaking that makes you feel part of the action and draws you in. Nothing too fancy, but it really has a nice bite to it. But my favorite part of this movie had to be the acting: Chris Pine and Ben Foster, who gave such powerhouse performances in Hell or High Water are, again, terrific here, although I wished they were on screen together more in this film. Pine is really the star of this movie as the born-again Bourne and he’s raw, suffering, and has a conscious.

Foster is great as well, but when these two are together (like late in the third act) it’s Oscar-worthy stuff! Gillian Jacobs plays James’ wife with great compassion, and Keifer musters some sinister vibes here. And look for Eddie Marsan in a small role as the company doctor. Yeah, this film has a plot you’ve seen before, but this one is handled so well and has such great acting in it that it begs a watching.

**Now showing in theaters and streaming on Amazon Prime and other VOD services     

Hell or High Water (2016)

A small indie film written by Taylor Sheridan (the two Sicario films), this blink-and-you’ll-miss-it movie came and went in smaller theaters, which was a shame since it was totally underrated and universally praised by critics.

It’s bleak, barren, stark, and unforgiving West Texas where this timely tale of two brothers begins. Toby and Tanner Howard (Chris Pine & Ben Foster) rob banks, but not just any banks, but specifically the Texas Midlands Banks. Though their robberies are well-planned, Tanner’s wild nature leads him to take unnecessary risks, frustrating Toby. Their mother died a while ago, leaving their ranch in debt because of a reverse mortgage provided by, you guessed it, the Texas Midlands Bank, which is going to foreclose if not settled. Meanwhile, oil has been discovered on their land, and Toby is determined to ensure a comfortable life for his estranged sons and divorced wife. 

Hot on their trail are two Texas Rangers, Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham). Hamilton, who is close to retirement, quickly determines the brothers’ methods and personalities. Another bank is robbed and the guys take the stolen money to an Oklahoma Indian casino to launder it, this way they can pay the Texas Midlands Bank with a check. Pretty clever, but dangerous. Everything is going according to plans until a botched robbery goes south and Tanner kills some people during a holdup. Uh-oh! During their escape, Toby gets shot and the two are forced to split up.

While a bleeding Toby tries to race to the casino with the stolen cash and past a police checkpoint, his crazy brother is busy eluding the Texas Rangers and State Troopers with a risky goose chase up in the mountains. While Toby manages to come away clean and save his ranch from foreclosure, thus securing any future oil rights, his brother isn’t so lucky and pays the price. Even though Toby is done with robbing, Hamilton pursues his investigation and tries to prove his theory, which sets up a constant state of conflict and tension throughout the film.

This is one enjoyable, nail-biting, thought-provoking, and entertaining movie. Directed by David MacKenzie, who has only made a few films that you’ve never heard of before like Asylum and Spread. His style reminds me of another Peter Bogdanovich with camera style, placement, and editing. It’s just a beautifully shot film that has a harsh edge to it that draws you in from the first frame. And the acting is top-notch all the way with Chris Pine & Ben Foster having such intense chemistry as brothers you’d swear they’re really siblings!

Jeff Bridges does his patented old crusty lawman gig as he did before in R.I.P.D. and True Grit. In fact, everyone in this movie, right down to the ensemble, are excellent. One of my favorite scenes is the diner in Vernon where Hamilton and Parker go in for a bite and are almost accosted by the no-nonsense waitress (Debrianna Masini). It’s just a small scene, but it’s so funny and random, it looks like it was all ad-libbed. But don’t get me wrong, this movie ain’t a comedy; it’s a drama with some heart-breaking moments and gut-wrenching scenes. Do yourself a favor and rent/stream this one! 

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