For an action thriller that deals with guns and burns, “The Contractor” manages to function at a personal level too. In the middle of the plot is Army sergeant first class James Harper (Chris Pine), who is honorably yet involuntarily discharged from his position in the army due to his health issues. He is broke and is offered a job for a “data heist” mission by his mate Mike (Ben Foster) for a private covert military group under the leadership of Rusty Jennings (Kiefer Sutherland), also former US army. However, the mission turns out to be different when James is hunted by agents, and the mission turns out to be a national-level conspiracy.
“The Contractor” is a character study of James Harper, a war-hardened soldier who was “branded” by his father (also in the army). He is discharged from his services due to his health issues in a way that does seem disrespectful, all for the sake of “clearing the house.” He has a family to feed and himself to stand up to. He goes all-in at the first chance he gets to earn more money for a covert mission, but ultimately gets caught in the middle of a conspiracy. Betrayal, fear, rage, uncertainty, abandonment, self-loathing, and guilt, James is caught in the web of all this. The question is whether he will be able to survive all this if, at all, he is able to save his own life.
Like Father, Unlike Son
Right from the beginning of the film, we get the impression of how much James’s dad has influenced his life. And from the looks of it, it seems that he has always looked up to his father. We get all this information in the form of flashbacks. When Rusty mentions James’ father, James replies that his father has nothing to do with his choices and decisions as far as his job is concerned. However, his memories and the flashbacks speak otherwise. During times of chaos or when he feels lost, he thinks of his father, or maybe his father is the one who comes to his mind. While it may be that thinking about his father gives him the courage to deal with situations, it could also be that he connects such extreme situations to his father’s absence from his life (something he reveals towards the end of the film). His father vanished without any note after being cast out of the army, just like James was. So it also seems that he didn’t want to be like his father and wanted to take care of his family. If we consider this, then the flashbacks are nothing but his way of showing his father how he is better than him in that he is doing all it takes to ensure that his family has a good life.
A sense of abandonment and the rage that results from it are the two feelings that James has put a lid on inside his heart. He was brought up to be a strong lad by his father, and this aspect of his character (along with him being in the army) goes into conflict with the sense of abandonment and rage that resulted from his father’s disappearance from his life. He doesn’t want to cry and denies being affected by his father, but deep down, he knows it isn’t true. Be that as it may, he makes it out of Berlin hurt but safe and gets back to his family, thereby setting an example in his mind to his father that he is better than him.
What Drives James Harper?
Is James Harper doing this for his family? Or does he just want to get back to his army days where he could be the way he wanted to be, the way his father brought him up to be? A life where the guns do the talking, and the mind isn’t troubled with the workings of society. Many times, we have seen in films how soldiers returning from war have a tough time re-adjusting to regular life as we know it. American Sniper is a good example. It gets tough to shed the skin of a soldier, and while some are able to do it easily, others take time. In “The Contractor,” James is still trying to adjust when he receives the offer, which, due to the money it will bring along with the action he years, makes him say “yes” right away. Uncertainty is something James clearly cannot live with, especially since he has always been trained to be prepared for his calling. Perhaps the fact that he messed up is something that he is unable to accept, and that is why he decides to make things right in whatever way he can.
A Sadness For Self
After James decides to set things right, he approaches Sylvie, the wife of Salim Mohsin, the man whom he killed. He had to acquire the safe deposit box that had all the information about Mohsin’s research. He asks Sylvie to introduce him to her son Yanis as his father’s friend. When he takes Sylvie and her son to the location (Swiss Credit Bank), Sylvie goes inside to bring the box while James and Yanis wait in the car. This is when Yanis asks James if he is sad since his friend (Yanis’s father) is dead. James replies, “Yes.” And he isn’t lying. But there’s a lot more to his sadness than just killing a civilian for an unjust cause. His sadness is the accumulation of the promises he couldn’t keep to his wife and child, the promise he made to himself to protect his country, and his inability to save his friend Mike (whom he thought was dead). And what made the sadness even worse was the discovery that Mike is alive.
There is a suggestion here. Is the rage that James has now a result of the slight possibility that he might be thinking that just like Mike (whom he knew was dead), his father too was alive and happy somewhere else? We only know that he left without a trace. So it could be true that he is indeed alive. Either way, James intends to put an end to all that brought him to his present state and decides to kill Rusty.
After putting an end to Rusty, he returns home. On the way, he loses his best friend Mike (he lights his car on fire with Mike’s body in it). This seems to symbolize how he is moving on from his past. Mike was the only link to his past life, and with him gone, so is the war side of him. The ending scene of “The Contractor,” where we see James Harper calling out his son’s name, “Jack!” symbolizes the beginning of a new journey for him and his son. A journey that won’t be affected by war.