I always adored Wesley Snipes as a screen presence & was sorry to see him displaced by Will Smith & other younger actors.
I suppose his convictions for tax evasion, tax fraud, a reckless driving conviction after a high-speed chase with the police, illegal weapons charges, & a paranoic need to stride in public with pushy bulked up bodyguards, not to mention suing producers, contributed to his downfall from superstar status to laughing stock. His sense of his stardom putting him above laws & propriety finally caught up with him. But he remains a genuinely talented guy who deserved to be the big screen draw he has been.
Still, he's great whether assessed as an action hero in such big-release commercial blockbusters like Passenger 57 (1992) or the Blade trilogy (1994-2004), serious thrillers like The Fan (1996), or outright art films like Jungle Fever (1991) & Down n the Delta (1998).
I wouldn't count him out for bouncing back, but as I write this in 2009, it's looking like he's in B pictures for the time being, straight-to-video stuff like The Marksman (2005), Chaos (2005), The Detonator (2006) & The Contractor (2007).
A fallen actor of this quality is a godsend to producers of trash, & Wesley certainly upraises any film he is in, though had The Marksman exemplified these v-films, his diehard fans might've lost heart.
Wesley is James Dial, the titular character of The Contractor. James has just completed an assassination contract in England, but was injured. He holds up in a "safe house" apartment. A young girl, Emily Day (Eliza Bennett), lives on the same floor, & begins to nurse him. She soon realizes Scotland Yard is after the guy, but takes care of him even so, & protects the secret of his presence in the building. She's some kid.
Danger & action proceed apace, with the Contractor changing costumes/identities in his attempt to escape capture. He reveals to a metropolitan cop that he's a black-ops agent from America, trained to take out terrorists. The cop is almost immediately killed for what he's been told.
It becomes evident our anti-hero is being set up as a fall guy so America's intrustion into UK affairs won't be known. The head of the chase is agent Anette Ballard, played by Lena "Sarah Conner" Headey, who is almost as much fun to watch as Wesley.
Renegade CIA operative Jeremy Collins (Ralph Brown) is willing to sacrifice this woman agent to keep his operation secret. Thus James is in the position of having to save her life after revealing to her the truth. He begins to take out corrupt agents one by one not only to save himself, but to protect agent Ballard & young Emily.
Because of a good cast, this is an effective if inconsequential actioner, plenty of fighting & shoot-outs, spies vs. spies vs. cops, with our hero James destined for an absurdly happy ending in his life back in the States as a country cowboy.
The so-so cinematography & obviousness of the script doesn't permit The Contractor to be more than fast-paced escapism, but its limitations are certainly not the fault of the performances.
The important relationship between the young girl & James gets lost along the way, & fails to add up to as much as it should. Compared to the similar relationship in The Professional (Leon, 1994), The Contractor is a pale impersonation.
Comparisons between a jewel like The Professional & a directo-to-video action movie like The Contractor is unfair to the latter since The Professional is one of the dozen or so most amazing action films of all time. But there are similarities.
In The Professional, the twelve year old girl (Natalie Portman in what is likely to remain forever her greatest film role) is alarmingly sensual, giving her relationship to Leon (the phenomenal Jean Reno) an edgy impropriety which he, as the adult in the situation, keeps clean, while their deepening friendship becomes transcendent.
The familial bond of their relationship indeed makes The Professionial a rare example of action & suspense in context of beauty & an authentic, deeply portrayed heroism. It also conveys the nature of love-as-purity, rather than lust. The dangerous territory this film treads never goes off-target or off-color, & the gloomy cinematography & poetic script confirms it as a work of art.
The story itself, with Gary Oldman as the ultra-corrupt cop doing his all-too-typical psycho killer shtick, is not the important part of the film, despite that Leon's superb skills as a killer makes for a top-notch action feature.
When Mathilda realizes Leon is a contract killer for the mob, she quite understandably seeks to seduce him into avenging her baby brother who was murdered along with the rest of her family.
The harshness of these themes is magically overshadowed by that relationship between Leon & Mathilda, such as gives the film its genius & its soul.
The theatrical release in the US (& the so-called "deluxe" dvd) had a lot of the best bits deleted because of the sexual tensions that tempt Leon. The European cut is the one to look for on video, called "the international cut."
And yes some of it is uncomfortable, but anyone who has worked with abused or traumatized girls knows Mathilda's behavior is realistic.
And Leon makes the decision all adults should make in such a situation, rather than pleading "she wanted it!" after they're facing well-deserved prison time.
Unless a viewer is oversensitive, what one gets from their amazing bond is the sense that damaged souls can repair one another, & everyone struggling to survive should be so lucky as to have someone who gives them a reason for doing so.
Plus it's just a great fantasy to be taken under the wing of a contract killer & taught the ropes of the profession!
The profound bond between Leon & Mathilda in The Professional is certainly not duplicated in The Contractor, though it's the obvious inspiration.
The Contractor is more like Schoolgirl Meets Spy For her Summer Vacation, then goes back to school. Still, while no masterpiece like The Professional, gotta give kudos to the entire cast for making The Contractor good stuff with more dignity than action films generally permit.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl