The Contractor (2022) follows former U.S. Army Special Forces Sergeant James Harper (Chris Pine) as he attempts to adjust to life after military service. His former commanding officer (Ben Foster) brings him on to work with a group of government contractors led by Rusty Jenning (Kiefer Sutherland). Their first mission doesn't go according to plan, and Harper quickly realizes that, as the poster tagline points out, "The mission is not what it seems."
J.P. Davis wrote the script, his first in 15 years, and I was impressed with this one. I've seen a lot of movies with a similar plot before, but Davis' focus on the details and the dialogue made this one feel fresh. I appreciated that Davis touched on the mistreatment of soldiers by the government and its effect on a soldiers' physical and mental well-being. Again, that concept is not entirely new, and I'm not claiming that this script has a profound message in it, but it does make for a meaningful viewing experience without ever feeling too preachy.
Tarik Saleh, making his English-language film debut, compliments the writing with his deliberate, no-nonsense approach to the material. The action scenes are more subdued than the typical thriller, going for tension and suspense rather than adrenaline and chaos. That doesn't make them any less thrilling. The variety of action from fist fights, to chases, to shoot-outs, keeps them from becoming repetitive or dull. They're also filmed and edited wonderfully, allowing the audience to see all the action clearly, and the lack of music makes the action even more immersive.
The cast was the main attraction for me, specifically Chris Pine and Ben Foster, reunited after their amazing collaboration in Hell or High Water. While this may not reach the dramatic heights of that film, it still is a worthy follow-up and a great showcase for both actors. Pine, being the main character, gets more to work with and he is masterful. His character gets put through the wringer, physically and emotionally, and Pine portrays Harper's fear, sadness, desperation, determination, and anger perfectly. He gives one of the best performances I've seen this year.
On the supporting front, Foster and Kiefer Sutherland both shine. Neither role is very big, but they elevate them beyond what's written. Foster brings his trademark intensity, and his chemistry with Pine is fantastic. As in Hell or High Water, they work together naturally and are instantly believable as former soldiers who are as close as brothers. The scenes they share are written well, but it is their facial expressions and unspoken words that really made their performance work together.
Sutherland has even less to do than Foster, but he still stands out. He's more soft-spoken than anything I've ever seen him in, particularly in his introductory scene in which he is attempting to gain the trust of Harper. He comes across as caring and trustworthy, and it's a great scene between the two actors. On the other hand, when things go south in the mission, he still brings the fire that I'm used to seeing from him. It's an enjoyable performance and one that only a solid veteran actor like him could pull off.
While The Contractor didn't bring the hard-hitting action I thought it would, It's still an effective thriller. The action is incredibly tense, and the realism of the writing, choreography and filming helped that tension hit home. The plot reveals are pretty obvious, but the execution is good enough for me to get past that. I love that Pine's character is not an unbreakable action star. He's a real man who gets broken down in every way possible but continues to fight back and survive through sheer will and determination. It's a wonderfully written role and Pine brings it to life perfectly. Those who like their action a bit more grounded will enjoy this suspenseful thriller.