Warning: The following discussion contains spoilers.
I saw Contraband, the new Mark Wahlberg suspense thriller, over the weekend. It’s not bad as such things go — not super plausible, but you don’t expect that. The basic premise is that Wahlberg is an experienced international smuggler who has gone straight and now installs burglar alarms for a living, but . . . can you guess? That’s right — something happens, and he has to return to his old line of work for one last job.
I’ll spare you the details, but in the course of his adventurous mission, he comes into possession of three valuable items: A huge stack of counterfeit money, a real (and stolen) Jackson Pollack painting, and a large amount of cocaine. From the start, Wahlberg has been adamant that he will not smuggle drugs, and when he finds that a member of his crew has been maneuvered into handling the cocaine, he becomes livid.
Through the usual series of double-crosses, one-sided shootouts, and implausible escapes, they manage to bring everything into the country successfully. Wahlberg unloads the funny money to a middleman for real cash and sells the painting on the black market for an eight-figure price. As for the cocaine, he arranges for all the surviving bad guys in the movie to be caught with it, so they end up in prison. The last scene is a happy ending showing Wahlberg and his beautiful wife in their beautiful waterfront mansion.
Now, I understand that it’s in the nature of these films that you root for the criminal. But it’s interesting how the Hollywood value system governs the plot. Debauching the currency is no big deal, since the victims are hard to identify; the same goes for stealing someone’s property, since the owner is probably really rich, and your six-year-old could paint something just as good anyway. But drugs are evil, so anyone involved must be punished (and giving the miscreants their due earns Wahlberg extra sympathy points from the audience).
Hollywood doesn’t always understand its audience perfectly, but in this case they hit the bull’s-eye. That’s why Contraband is doing so well at the box office — and that’s why a hard-money libertarian like Ron Paul will never be elected president.