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First Look presents

The Contract (Blu-ray) (2008)

Ray: What do they want you for?Carden:Caught me smoking in a restaurant. They're pretty serious about that nowadays.- Ray (John Cusack) and Carden (Morgan Freeman)

Stars: Morgan Freeman, John Cusack, Alice Krige
Other Stars: Jamie Anderson, Megan Doods,Ned Bellamy
Director: Bruce Beresford

MPAA Rating: R for Violence and nudity
Run Time: 01h:36m:12s
Release Date: 2008-12-02
Genre: suspense thriller

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C+ BB-C- C-


DVD Review

Take a quick look at the box cover for this one. It just looks like a direct-to-video thriller. Naturally the next thing youíll think is ďwhy are Morgan Freeman and John Cusack in this?Ē But letís be honest. Both these guys have been in theatrical films that shouldnít have been released at all, let alone go direct to video. I think itís important to remember that when looking at The Contract. Just because it didnít go to theaters doesnít mean itís bad. After all, Morgan Freemanís High Crimes got a nationwide release and Iíll be damned if thereís a single person in existence thatís going to tell me thatís a good movie.

The premise here isnít incredibly original. Freeman plays a mysterious assassin named Carden. When his recent job goes awry he finds himself in police custody. Naturally, heís the slippery sort. The kind of guy who can (and does) weasel out of his confines only to find himself stuck in the middle of Washington Stateís wilderness. He runs afoul of Ray (Cusack), a dedicated father amidst a camping trip with his estranged son (Jamie Anderson). Ray takes Carden into custody, determined to bring the killer to justice. Unfortunately, the assassinís men are hot on their trail and determined to stop Ray from reaching the authorities.

The Contract works if you can slip past its numerous gaps in logic. Would Ray really risk the life of his son (as well as his own) just to escort this killer back to custody? Furthermore, Cardin is a resourceful killer. Is there really no way for him to escape this father-son duo? The script mentions Cusackís character as being an ex-cop, but still. Then weíve also got to contend with several needless plot contrivances that bog down the third act: hidden villains, double crosses and a healthy dose of illogic. Itís all here.

It plays out a lot like 3:10 to Yuma (and this was before the remake hit the screens) with our sole hero struggling to do the right thing by his conscience. John Cusack never seems to have much trouble conveying a strong sense of likeability, no matter the film. And thatís no different here. Ray is easily identifiable as a character even if he seems willing to endanger his son for questionable gain. The guy has an iron-clad sense of right and wrong thatís hard to disagree with. Likewise, Freeman is almost always agreeable even if he continues his trend of playing the most likeable villains. Harkening back to 3:10 to Yuma, Freemanís Carden is a bad guy not without a warm and sticky center Ė just like Yumaís iconic outlaw, Ben Wade.

So thereís a strong sense of dťjŗ vu in The Contract. We feel like weíre in well worn territory here and there are probably very few surprises to be held for the seasoned moviegoer. And yet, I found myself compelled. Our leads are so strong that it overpowers the familiarities of the story. Beyond that I was impressed with the decision to end the film on a somewhat troubling note. Thatís not to infer this isnít largely predictable, but the impression The Contract chooses to leave us with is an interesting (and unexpected) one.

And thatís why it works. There are enough little surprises and nice character pieces along the way. Couple that with the fact that director Bruce Beresford keeps things moving as quickly as possible and youíve got a decent little thriller here. Sadly, budgetary limitations prevent The Contract from realizing its full potential in the action and suspense department, but I didnít mind. If you can overlook the fact that weíve seen all this before you may just find this to be a reasonable piece of entertainment on a slow day. I did.

Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Inconsistent, inconsistent, inconsistent! Seriously. I have never seen anything in my life like this. One shot can be crisp, lush and detailed while the very next is washed out and bland. A quick trip to the IMDb reveals a very troubled production where the director was forced to finish the film with his own money. Maybe that's the reason for the wildly alternating quality, but who can say for certain?

What I will say is that this is an overall pleasing transfer. This image CAN be incredibly sharp, with good (if muted) colors and contrast. Blacks seem very solid and inky (check out the sequence set in a pitch-dark cave). What's really odd here is that the foreground is typically where you get the most detail while backgrounds are often lacking solid definition and pop. Arial shots of the Washington forest crackle with the most consistent detail, and are often the most pleasing to the eye.

Oddly enough, other moments appear to resemble an upcoverted DVD in how much detail is lacking (from facial features and backgrounds). Thankfully there's no trace of compressed video or other artifacting here. But it's just a bit baffling.

Overall I was happy with the image quality of The Contract. I haven't watched too many direct-to-video Blu-rays yet, but they typically fail to impress. Not so with this one. First Look's high definition transfer might be all over the place, but it's certainly the best way to view the film.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Not bad, not great. The True HD track isn't exactly aggressive but the rear channel work is decent. It's unfortunate, though, that this experience isn't as immersive as it could've been. Most of the film is set in a woodsy setting but we rarely get that sense from this track. Dialogue is solid and nicely leveled, there's just not much worth noting here.

Audio Transfer Grade: C- 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Documentaries
Packaging: standard Blu-ray packaging
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Picture-in-Picture
Extras Review: Inside The Contract runs about twenty mintues and features interviews with the film's cast and crew. Cusack and Freeman are barely glimpsed, sadly. Not bad, but it's just a filler promotional piece.

The PiP feature isn't too great, either. I sampled the vast majority of this and didn't find much information to gleam. It repeates a lot of the information from the featurette while the 'newer' facts aren't any more impressive.

Extras Grade: C-

Final Comments

The Contract is a forgettable, if likeable, little thriller that probably wonít be of much interest to many outside fans of either star. That said, undiscriminating (or more forgiving) viewers might find themselves pleased with the material. With First Lookís Blu-ray you get a fair high definition presentation to boot. If I canít recommend this disc as a purchase I would feel confident in saying itís worth a rental.

Matt Serafini 2009-01-07