The Contractor (2022) Movie Ending Explained & Themes Analysed: Despite releasing on the 25th of March, S.S. Rajamouli’s RRR (2022) is dominating the box office in India and in international territories as well. That didn’t stop a slew of movies from releasing last week. Out of that roster, two of the most popular names were Morbius (2022) and Attack: Part 1 (2022). Both of them got dismal reviews and while Morbius managed to make back its budget, Attack seemed to be struggling. But amidst all these VFX-heavy, big-budget blockbusters, the Chris Pine led movie, The Contractor (2022) failed to make any ripples due to its lukewarm reception from audiences to critics. Turns out that it’s actually the best one out of the lot that arrived on the first weekend of April and deserves more love and appreciation than it got. And that’s exactly what we’re here for!
Spoiler warning: This article contains major spoilers for The Contractor.
The Contractor (2022) Movie Summary, Synopsis & Review:
Directed by Tarik Saleh and written by J.P. Davis, The Contractor follows Special Forces Sgt. James Harper (Chris Pine) who lives with his wife Brianne (Gillian Jacobs) and son Jack (Sander Thomas). And by “living”, it means he spends time with them and uses the rest of it to exercise and recuperate from the various injuries in his body, the nastiest one of which is in his knee. Still, he shows up for his revaluation that will allow him to rejoin the Special Forces and aces it on the surface. But the evaluating officers find high doses of steroids and human growth hormone in his blood and they not only reject his candidacy but also honorably discharge him, thereby cutting him off his pension and healthcare privileges. This puts him in a problematic situation as he’s struggling to find a dignified job outside of the Forces and Brianne’s income won’t cover their debts and mortgages.
James considers going for private contracting but Brianne reminds him of his stand on it. Soon after that, news of a fellow Marine named Mason’s death hits home and it is insinuated that he died by suicide. James decides to attend the funeral and that’s where he meets his long-term friend, Mike (Ben Foster) who invites him over to dinner. Under the pretext of showing his new home and reuniting James with his family, Mike plants the idea of doing a private Black Ops job. Because Mike is aware of James’s financial situation and he knows that after seeing how well he is doing, James won’t be able to say no to it. Of course, James says “Yes” and sits down with the head of operations Rusty (Kiefer Sutherland) to discuss the details. He’s assigned to go on a mission in Germany to take out one Salim Mohamed Mohsin (Fares Fares). And things go south there pretty quickly and James is forced to question the ethics of the whole exercise.
The Contractor is an out-and-out Chris Pine vehicle who delivers a somber, haunting, and gut-wrenching performance. Saleh, along with editor Theis Schmidt and cinematographer Pierre Aïm, allows Pine to breathe in between the gnarly action scenes, thereby giving the audience the opportunity to project their thoughts onto him regarding what James is contemplating. Is he worried? Is he angry? Is he scared? Or is he so far gone that he isn’t thinking at all? And finding the answers to all those questions through Pine’s complex expressions makes for an engaging viewing experience. Ben Foster, Gillian Jacobs, Eddie Marsan, and Kiefer Sutherland do shine in the scenes they are in. But they are mainly in the movie to accentuate Pine’s journey and they excel at doing exactly that. Also, given how this is the third movie that Foster and Pine have starred together after The Finest Hours (2016) and Hell or High Water (2016), it’s evident that their chemistry on and off the screen is electric.
The Contractor definitely tries to qualify for the Taylor Sheridan school of Neo Westerns (Sicario, Hell or High Water, Wind River, Sicario 2, Without Remorse, and Those Who Wish Me Dead), but the storytelling suffers a little because it leaves too much material that needs resolution for the third act. Instead, Davis and Saleh focus on James’s personal journey, his battle with his physical and psychological demons, and really tests the limits of his humanity and his love for his country and his family. Which would’ve been enough if the movie was all about that. But since the narrative hints at largely, globally relevant issues, it certainly would’ve been better if the filmmakers gave those sub-plots more room to breathe instead of letting them occur off-screen or by resolving them too quickly and conveniently. All that said, the movie is brilliantly paced, peppered with some shocking twists and turns, features a bunch of hard-as-nails action sequences, and (as mentioned before) confidently led by Chris Pine to keep you engaged.
The Contractor (2022) Movie Themes Explained:
Dispensability of US Soldiers:
James is clearly patriotic to a fault (which is something we’ll come to in a bit). His lung isn’t fully functional. His knee is in bad shape. On top of that, he needs steroids. But he still wants to be in the Special Forces. While talking to Brianne, James says that the steroids were for his knee and according to the previous rules, he wouldn’t even be tested for them. Now, since there’s a new person in charge of who gets recruited into the team, he won’t let James in. This is fine in the sense that new administrations always come with new rules. However, the decision to not only cut James from the army with an honorable discharge but also cancel his pension and healthcare seems like overkill. Because it essentially nullifies the years of work he has done for the United States of America and leaves him out to look for scraps. And the problem with that is a person who has been through a job such as the US Special Forces, they’ll never be able to adjust to a 9-to-5 job.
That aspect of James’s life shines a light on the Department of Defense’s inability to rehabilitate US soldiers who have dedicated major chunks of their life, their mind, and their body on fruitless missions. What about the private Defense operatives like Rusty’s ranch? Well, the way Rusty describes it, his job “can give you a real home, honorable work. No corporate interest, no babysitting billionaires, no bullshit.” He says that they operate with direct presidential authority under Title 50 (intelligence agencies, intelligence activities, and covert action.) and deal strictly with matters of national security. He calls it a deep black OGA (Other Government Agency) offshoot. To make it sound poetic, Rusty calls James’s job “sledgehammer shit” and refers to his operations as “scalpel work”. In addition to that, the pay is immense as we see James getting $50K upfront with the promise of getting upon completing the mission. That said, there are a few caveats. No one will know you’ve done this job and if you run the danger of exposing the truth of the mission, you’ll be killed by your own people. That brings things back to square one (or worse): disposability.
The easy answer to the question “Why is James willing to do a Special Forces-related job?” is that he’s patriotic. He was officially protecting the country and now he gets to do the same (kind of) unofficially. But that brings up the question that “How much of James’s patriotism is organic and how much of it is a result of his father’s army-related indoctrination?” The answer to that is sprinkled throughout the film and James’s penultimate speech. The first shot of Chris Pine is that of his shoulder which has the fading tattoo of the American flag on it. Later we get to witness its gruesome origin in a flashback scene where a young James (Toby Dixon) is seen sitting in a tattoo parlor getting the American flag permanently imprinted on his body, blood seeping from his shoulder, while his eyes are on the TV which is airing US Army propaganda. Once that’s done, he’s rewarded with a birthday greeting card and a photoshoot with his father, both of them branded with the American flag. Additionally, we get visual confirmation from James’s hallucinations of his weapons training at a very young age.
If it isn’t obvious yet, yes, James’s patriotism isn’t his own at all but a result of father’s toxic upbringing. He struggles to separate his inclination towards a job that involves blindly killing “anti-national forces” from his father’s. And he fails because that’s the only way he knows how to exist. But he is repulsed by it. Before going to Mason’s funeral, James assures Brianne that he is not his father. When Rusty brings up the topic of James’s father, he shuts it down. However, after re-confronting Mike (after thinking he didn’t make it out of the Germany mission), James explodes and says, “My father, he branded me to be like him. A f**king Ranger to the bone. And when they cut him loose and they cast him out, he just never came home. Vanished. No note, corpse. I finally just buried all the shit the f**ker ever gave me in the backyard. Had my own funeral. I’m standing over this pathetic little hole filled with stupid shit. And I swore to myself I would never be like him.” This means that his journey is motivated by his intention to be a good, present father to James and a good, present husband to Brianne i.e., two things his father never was.
The Contractor (2022) Movie Ending Explained:
To understand what happens in the end, we need to go back to the beginning. While recruiting James, Rusty describes the mission as a “situation in Berlin that threatens our national security”. Upon reaching Berlin, he’s visited by Katia (Nina Hoss) who tells James that he has to tail Salim Mohsin (Fares Fares), Professor Emeritus of virology at Humboldt-Universität. Mohsin is a lecturer but his primary focus is research work which is conducted at a private laboratory 40 kilometers east of town. He is accused of bioterrorism as he is apparently continuing his research on H1N1 and avian flu mutations with the help of a person who has links to al-Qaeda and Syria. When the team reaches Mohsin (and eventually kills him), he warns James that he isn’t a bioterrorist, but someone who is actively trying to find a vaccine that will save millions of lives. James is doubtful about it but he decides to run with it since that is the job.
After facilitating Mike’s escape from Berlin, James gets in contact with Rusty, who tells him that Mike didn’t make it back home. That’s when he starts to have suspicions about Rusty’s plans. Rusty identifies James’s hesitation and sends out a kill squad to take him out under the guise of extracting him. James manages to escape and with the help of Salim’s wife, he gets his hands on the truth behind the mission. This is, as Salim said moments before dying, that Salim was indeed making a vaccine for the H1N1 virus. But since powerful people all around the globe don’t want a publicly available vaccine (because if people don’t fall sick, they won’t access healthcare, and if they don’t access healthcare, the people behind pharmacies and hospitals won’t make money). That’s why Salim was branded as a threat to USA’s national security and eliminated. And now that James has his hands on the information and on Rusty’s radar, he is told repeatedly that he won’t be allowed to go back home. His family will get a payout but if he goes back then his family will be killed too.
However, as mentioned before, James is motivated by his need to be with his family. So, he claws his way back to the US of A, finds out that Mike is alive and well, confronts him, and learns that Mike was informed that James didn’t make it back. This means that the moment James hesitated to give his exact location and other necessary information to Rusty, he put out the kill order on him (harking back to the notion of people like James being disposable for those in power). Mike reminds James that Rusty knows he’s back, he is going to kill him and his family. James takes that into consideration and attacks Rusty’s ranch, killing everybody in the process. Mike succumbs to his injuries. But James gets his ticket back to his family and the movie ends with him calling out to Jack and Jack looking back at James. It’s not revealed whether James leaked the information about the vaccine to the press because that would mean painting a target on his back. It’s not revealed if James is truly free, given the level of spy work he was involved in. All we can do is imagine that James got to be what he wanted to be: a good father to Jack and a good husband to Brianne.