Review: Chris Pine Gets Intense as a Mercenary Trying to Solve a Mystery in The Contractor

Taking a crack at a bare-bones action-thriller B-movie, Chris Pine (Star Trek, Wonder Woman) plays Special Forces Sgt. James Harper in The Contractor. He finds himself in trouble with the Army, involuntarily discharged from service without a pension and leaving him and his family—wife Brianne (Gillian Jacobs) and young son Jack (Sander Thomas)—financially strapped. Out of options and unable to pay bills, Harper reaches out to his old partner Mike (Ben Foster), who works for a private, underground mercenary group that is hired out by the government for unsanctioned contract work, something he swore he’d never do because he didn’t like not knowing who he was really working for.

The man who runs the mercenary operation is Rusty (Kiefer Sutherland), and before long, he sends Mike and Harper on their first mission, which naturally goes sideways in a spectacular fashion. Harper is injured and can’t leave a drainage tunnel where they’re hiding, so Mike heads out to find out the extraction plan, promising to come back to get his friend, which never happens. Harper dresses his wounds as best he can and heads out, only to hear that Mike has been killed and he is being hunted, possibly by men hired by Rusty, who is looking to tie up loose ends on this botched mission. The rest of The Contractor is part manhunt story, part mystery, with Harper trying to find out who their target was, who wanted him dead, and who betrayed his team.

Directed by Tarik Sale (Metropia, The Nile Hilton Incident) and written by J.P. Davis, The Contractor works best when it’s a pure mission-driven story. The more we get into the personal lives of these men, the less I care, which is admittedly the reverse of how I usually evaluate films. But Pine’s steely-eyed determination was enough to keep me interested in his story. The mission is interesting enough, and when people start verbally threatening his family, it puts the brakes on what’s otherwise a fairly tightly constructed tale. I particularly liked an extended sequence in which Harper ends up at a safe house operated by Virgil (the great Eddie Marsan), who is one of the only people in this film with a solid, unwavering code of conduct that he believes in and doesn’t sway from because of money.

There’s nothing particularly original about Davis’ screenplay, and there are certainly no surprises about who the real villains of the movie are or why they’re doing what they do. Still, I especially enjoyed the final standoff that Harper enters into, unsure if he’ll survive. Aside from being predictable, there’s nothing particularly inspired about the action sequences, but again, Pine is so unusually intense, I was caught up in pretty much anything he was. The Contractor isn’t a great film, but I enjoyed watching Pine move out of his comfort zone once again and try something new.

The film is now playing theatrically.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.