Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Contract: Contractually Obligated to be Kind of Boring

morgan freeman,john cusack,the contract

You would think that a movie directed by Bruce Beresford (Double Jeopardy, Driving Miss Daisy) and written by Stephen Katz (who wrote several episodes of The A Team, Knight Rider, and Hunter), starring John Cusack and Morgan Freeman would be pretty interesting. How does it feel to be wrong? Not so good, huh?

Unfortunately, this movie wrote a check that it just couldn't cash. There are vague sub-plots and side-plots that either don't mean anything, make no sense, bring nothing extra to the story, or a combination of all three. It's a basic, generic "normal guy has to sort of fight bad guys when backed into the corner/lifelong assassin sort of turns over a new leaf due to their encounter" type story, with somewhat mediocre performances from the stars. Which is strange and depressing, since they're both typically great performers, able to bring extra nuances to their roles.

Morgan Freeman looks a little bit bad ass most of the time, though.

morgan freeman,the contract

Here's a quick plot outline for your pleasure: Ray Keene (Cusack) and his son Chris (first-timer Jamie Anderson) have a strained relationship. Ray's wife (whom I believe is unnamed) died from breast cancer, and as a result, Chris is acting out. So they decide they'll go camping/hiking. Meanwhile, Frank Cardeen (Freeman) has assembled his crew of criminals and kill some rich guy's son. Later, Frank is in a random car accident that puts him in the hospital, and leads to his arrest/capture. As the Federal Marshals are driving him through the same woods where Ray and Chris are hiking, Carden's men ambush the Feds, and the car goes over a vague cliff. Ray and Chris find the car in the river, fish out Carden and the remaining Fed, who gives his gun to Ray and gives him a brief rundown of the situation. Then, for the rest of the movie, Ray and Carden and Chris wander about the woods, trying to get Carden back to the Feds without being killed by Carden's men.

It's a fairly simple plot, with no real conflict and seemingly without motivation. For instance, I'm not entirely certain why it's so difficult for them to just get back to the road somewhere, or even somewhere where they can get cell phone signal. Also, they're in the woods for awhile, and I'm not certain why they're going deeper into it. You'd think that they wouldn't be able to track you if you were on an asphalt road, but what do I know? Turns out, Ray's an ex-cop and a current gym teacher, so he's got some skills and some instincts. He's able to fend off the bad guys a few times, and eventually even kills one, which is pretty bad ass, but I almost missed it. A lot of the action is almost random, and maybe I'm just tired, but it was hard to see where things were coming from along the way.

john cusack,morgan freeman,the contract

An interesting bit of trivia is that the director writes of this movie in his memoir (Josh Hartnett Definitely Wants To Do This), talking about how difficult the production was, and how little sense the script makes. I don't really know why he would put up his own money to finish production of a movie that he knew didn't make sense. But the point is, it was made, it was released, and someone has to watch it.

There isn't enough to this movie to analyze, let alone over-analyze. There's a barely mentioned and odd side-story about the rich guy whose kid they kill at the beginning, something about stem sell research. By killing the son, they wanted to lure the father out in the open (to the funeral) where they could kill him. Carden has a change of heart somewhere along the movie, presumably over his limited interaction with Ray and his kid. Their father-son bond stronger somehow, too, and evidently, a random hiker and her boyfriend/husband show up somewhere (I literally missed their introduction, I'm not sure where they came from), and the husband/boyfriend is shot by the bad guys. Then the woman follows them around for awhile, and then it looked kind of like at the end, Ray had taken her out on a date to a picnic or some crap with Chris? It seriously makes no sense, and is absolutely strange.

I feel bad not recommending the movie. I would recommend pretty much any other movie directed by Berelsford, and any other movie starring either Cusack and Freeman. Do yourself a favor and watch Driving Miss Daisy, Grosse Pointe Blank, and pretty much any other Morgan Freeman movie if you want to see them doing cool stuff and actually mattering. Unfortunately, this movie isn't really worth the time, and it's disappointing considering the stars.

Don't waste your time and energy on trying to pay attention to the movie. I give it two pointless and nonsensical plotlines out of five, or two useless and meaningless sub-plots out of five.

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