The Contractor (15) ***
Wild Men (15) **
Wake Up Punk (15) ***
The last big push to turn Chris Pine into an action hero was 2014’s Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, a so-so spy movie made in an era redefined by 9/11 and the Bourne movies. That it didn’t take off was hardly Pine’s fault (he was the fourth movie star to bail on the Jack Ryan franchise after just one or two films). Since then, though, the actor has been in a weird movie star limbo. Unlike the other Chrises with whom he’s often lumped in (Messrs Hemsworth, Evans and Pratt), he has no multi-movie Marvel deal to fall back on, so while he’s returned once as Captain Kirk in the Star Trek reboot’s under-performing third instalment, he’s ploughed a more esoteric furrow, playing Robert the Bruce in Outlaw King, embracing his eye-candy status as Wonder Woman’s boyfriend, and starring in one bona fide modern classic – David Mackenzie’s Oscar-nominated Neo-western Hell or High Water.
That film gave Pine a welcome opportunity to play a different sort of character – a grizzled, hard-working guy chewed up by a system for which Pine’s own all-American handsomeness might one have made him a poster boy. It’s small wonder, then, that in returning to the world of espionage in new thriller The Contractor, from director Tarik Saleh, he does so with a character more informed by Hell or High Water’s conflicted bank robber than the jingoistic leanings of Tom Clancy’s most famous creation.
Pine plays James Harper, an Army Ranger medical officer forced out of the service after failing a drug test and cast into the murkier waters – literally at one point – of privatised military work. James isn’t a junkie or anything; he’s a good soldier with a crippling leg injury that has forced him to self-medicate with heavy duty painkillers. The army brass have even given him an honourable discharge for his service. But they’ve also stripped him of his benefits, which in the current economic climate is tantamount to kneecapping a man who’s already been kneecapped.
With spiralling debt and a wife (Gillian Jacobs) and young son (Sander Thomas) to support, James reluctantly signs up with the sort of firm that government agencies hire when they want to maintain plausible deniability about their more clandestine operations. The fact that the man running the firm is played by Kiefer Sutherland is enough to tip us off that something’s not right and, sure enough, when James is dispatched to Berlin for a data extraction mission that goes spectacularly wrong, he soon finds himself injured and alone in a foreign country unable to trust his new employers as they close ranks with the ruthlessness of a gonzo Jack Bauer.
This is hardly an original set-up for a movie. Since the Vietnam era, American cinema has a had a long tradition of using the raw deal veterans receive from the country they’ve risked their lives defending as dramatic grist for the mill. But Pine is good at humanising this trope. Guilt and regret course through his character and he never just shakes off his physical ailments, which helps give the action sequences a frisson of danger. Dramatically, the film also benefits from casting Pine’s Hell or High Water co-star Ben Foster as his comrade-in-arms. Like James, Foster’s character is in a tough family bind (he has a child with severe special needs), and Foster plays it just right – his indignation at his country’s failure to provide for its veterans hardening into a mercenary do-what-it-takes justification that blurs the line between right and wrong.
It’s certainly better than Wild Men, a derivative Danish black comedy that veers from slapstick buddy movie to grisly violence to sentimental midlife crisis movie. The man having the midlife crisis is Martin (Rasmus Bjerg), an office drone who has walked out on a his family to live life as a Viking in the forests of Norway. His family don’t know he’s done this (they think he’s on a team-building exercise), but when his survival skills prove inadequate he accidentally robs a supermarket before teaming up with a drug dealer (Zaki Youssef) who’s hiding out in the woods with a bag full of cash following a serious car crash. Co-writer/director Thomas Daneskov keeps piling on incident after incident with little interest in character development. The Killing’s Sofie Gråbøl has a thankless role as Martin’s wife.
Wake Up Punk charts the intriguing story of British entrepreneur and climate change activist Joe Corré as he plans to burn five-million-pounds’ worth of punk memorabilia in protest at its commodification. As the son of Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, Corré’s decision to destroy his heritage (with his mother’s blessing) quickly raises the ire of what’s become the punk establishment. Yet there’s a purpose to this Bill Drummond-esque act of cultural vandalism. Set against the backdrop of the government-sanctioned 40th anniversary celebrations of punk in 2016, Corré’s act of provocation exposes the irony of a movement defined by the Sex Pistols’ furious “No Future” mantra as it calcifies under the weight of nostalgia at the very moment political inaction on climate change is starting to have a profound effect on everyone’s future. Offering a refreshingly withering view of the movement, it’s also fascinating to hear Westwood open up about what she thinks it meant and why she’s never been keen on looking back.
The Contractor is on Amazon Prime from 6 May; Wild Men and Wake Up Punk are on selected release from 6 May.