There’s a throbbing meaninglessness to all 103 minutes of The Contractor, an action-thriller with little action and zero thrills. It stars Chris Pine as Sgt. James Harper, who’s been discharged from the military for doping HGH to stay awake during his successive tours of Iraq and Afghanistan. Harper suffers from complex PTSD. To make matters worse, the nature of his discharge means no pension or military healthcare. His family is financially underwater. Against the wishes of his wife, Brianne (Gillian Jacobs), Harper takes on some contracting work recommended by his old friend Mike (Ben Foster). It goes poorly, and he ends up on the run in Germany with nobody to trust.
That happens about halfway through the movie, which takes about 45 minutes to deliver on the premise of a capable warrior fighting for his life. If only anything in those initial moments landed the way director Tarik Saleh and writer J.P. Davis were hoping. It’s ostensibly a PTSD drama about Harper trying to avoid suicide and overdose like many of his brothers in arms, but the approach to the subject is heavy-handed. In the wake of America’s two 21st-century wars, the topic has been done to death as a subject of inquiry as well as a dramatic device to propel action stories. “Better done other places” is an easy critique, but it’s accurate here. The Contractor doesn’t add anything new to the conversation about these subjects and doesn’t even bother to use them as an excuse for a decent action story.
It’s a shame Kiefer Sutherland is the one-day-on-set baddie here because his presence brings to mind 24, perhaps the sterling example of a post-9/11 “soldier for freedom” narrative. (If you don’t believe me, check out Nick’s list of the 100 best one-hour characters from the entire series, and see how often such characters intersect with Sutherland’s Jack Bauer.) The Contractor is like a really lame episode of that series, and Sutherland’s presence reminds you of that fact. He isn’t the clean-cut, gruff, no-nonsense hero here, though. He plays Rusty, a black-ops kinda guy with a long beard, tattoos and fashion that embodies the “operator” look made popular by inadequate men over the past few years. For whatever reason, he’s also adopted a strange and unidentifiable accent that I believe is meant to be Texan. Not sure. Who cares? It’s actually a fun choice in a movie with few of those.
Anyway, Rusty is around for three scenes. His longest is a conversation full of every stereotypical action jargon it could handle. Stuff like “We’re a Deep Black OGA offshoot” or “We work directly with presidential authority” or “What did you do in uniform? Sledgehammer shit? We work with a scalpel.” It’s the kind of dialogue he probably just pulled from old 24 line readings. It’s a joy seeing him play the role in that scene, at least, because it turns the mind to better days. The remainder of the film is mostly Harper running around looking scared.
At risk of “spoiling” anything important here, just know that the main plot is incredibly basic and predictable. The op that goes wrong fails in a profoundly stupid way. In fact, the nature of the contractors’ operation is unbelievably dumb. For a film that wants to send a message about what veterans are forced into by a culture that doesn’t understand them, it sure tries hard to paint them as complete dumbasses.
Pine helped shepherd The Contractor for a few years, and it’s been stuck searching for a distributor for a good chunk of that time. It premieres this week in theaters and on digital VOD, with Showtime and Paramount+ runs to come later this year. It feels like the sort of thing that only ever saw release because a major corporation needs grist for its streaming mill. There’s no real reason to watch it, even if you like Pine, who puts in a layman’s performance in a role without much going for it. You’re better off just watching old reruns of 24.