The post-9/11 world is an uncertain place, with political motivations tinting every action, resulting in rampant government distrust. This feeling has also permeated popular culture, with Hollywood promptly producing a series of politically-charged thrillers that have challenged the status quo. Like the majority of films, though, not all political thrillers are created equal. The Contract, recently released directly to DVD, is an example of the lesser kind.
Ray Keene (John Cusack) is a father struggling to control his teenaged son Chris (Jamie Anderson) following the death of his wife. Meanwhile, Frank Carden (Morgan Freeman) leads a crack team of trained assassins as they attempt to take out a target Carden describes as an "obstacle to progress." Carden is in a car wreck and arrested by local authorities when he's found carrying a gun. Keene and his son go on a camping trip, hoping to bond. Coincidentally, Carden's being transported through the very area where father and son are camping when his team attempts a rescue, forcing the two men to work together to get back to civilization.
Despite being billed as a political thriller, The Contract isn't overly political or thrilling. It would be tremendously easy to point the finger of blame at John Cusack and Morgan Freeman, especially since every moment of screentime features one of the two actors. By and large, though, the blame lies with the writers.
Either man's story would be interesting if told fully. In fact, two upcoming John Cusack films (Grace is Gone and the Martian Child) cast him as a father dealing with the demise of his wife. Unfortunately, writers Stephen Katz and John Darrouzet don't develop either man's story well. Keene and his son are given a predictable father-and-son-who-don't-get-along arc, further hindered by a convoluted series of subplots involving Carden and various shadowy levels of government. A love interest for Cusack is also introduced too far towards the end of the film to matter, also in the most convoluted and awkward way possible. The entire story of the film hinges on a series of unlikely coincidences, a fact that is likely to confuse and frustrate audiences.
Despite a big-name cast, effective cinematography and an Academy Award-nominated director (Bruce Beresford, honoured for 1983's Tender Mercies), The Contract falls short of the mark due to its horridly uneven and illogical script. It's a shame, because Morgan Freeman shooting people with a sniper rifle is pretty damn cool.