In 2008, writer Arnaldur Indriðason and writer/ director Óskar Jónasson crafted the Nordic heistthriller Reykjavik – Rotterdam, developed and financed by the film’s star and its primary producer, Baltasar Kormákur. The thriller follows a security guard named Kristófer as he is reluctantly drawn back into the world of alcohol smuggling when he takes a job on a container ship that departs Reykjavik, Iceland, and heads to Rotterdam, Holland.
A labor of love for Jónasson, Indriðason, Kormákur and their entire team, Reykjavik-Rotterdam was wellreceived in its home country of Iceland and throughout Europe. Two years later, Kormákur brought the idea of reimagining the film for English-speaking audiences to one of his agents. In turn, this led to British filmmakers Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner deciding to develop the project as an English-language thriller under their production banner, Working Title.
Reflects Fellner: “It’s not uncommon for a film to be reimagined for an entirely new audience. But what was interesting about the development of Contraband is that the original film’s star, who was also one of its producers, wanted to change things up by directing the remake. Balt has long been known in Europe as a rising-star director. After seeing his other films, we had the utmost confidence in his ability to helm this project and tell a story that was a parallel to the one he had helped to create in 2008. With greater resources, we knew he could expand upon that world and create a thriller that audiences will thoroughly embrace.”
Alongside Working Title’s Liza Chasin and Evan Hayes, two of the thriller’s executive producers, Kormákur brought up-and-coming screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski onto Contraband to create another chapter in the tale. “Other companies and studios were interested, but I liked Working Title,” Kormákur compliments. “It’s a fantastic company, and I’ve loved many of their films over the years. They put their hearts into what they’re doing. At the same time, they have had much commercial success. Alongside Aaron’s fantastic script, I had everything I was looking for, so it was a happy marriage.”
When considering their new setting, the team reflected upon Louisiana’s role as a sizable gateway to the world’s waterways, and the volume of the U.S. smuggling trade that passes through this region. Consequently, Kormákur, Guzikowski and the producers scouted the locale and decided that Contraband should be set in New Orleans, rather than Kormákur’s native Iceland. “The story is universal,” explains the director. “It has nothing especially to do with Iceland or Rotterdam. Smuggling in America is more relevant than what we have in my home country.”
When producers Mark Wahlberg and Stephen Levinson were given a copy of Reykjavik-Rotterdam, the two men quickly responded to the material and set up a meeting with Kormákur, Guzikowski and Working Title to discuss the possibilities of a partnership. Levinson walks us through Contraband’s development: “Balt was attached because he produced the original film. I thought it was interesting that he produced and starred in the original but that he wanted to direct this version. He said that he only saw Mark playing the role that he originated, and that was a big endorsement.”
Wahlberg offers: “I loved Reykjavik-Rotterdam, and Balt and I hit it off instantly. He starred in and produced the original, so he knows the story inside and out.” As they agreed to the terms and began preproduction, Wahlberg knew that working with independent filmmaker Kormákur meant there would a unique energy on set. Says the actor/producer: “Balt had the same approach with Contraband that he’s had with his movies that were a fourth of this budget. He was on set the whole time…jumping, running, showing me how to climb up things. He covers all the bases, and he’s smart about the performances. I like his style.”
As his British and American counterparts partnered with him for the new thriller, Kormákur says that he didn’t consider this iteration of the film to be a retread of his previous project. “It’s a journey,” he offers. “I don’t think of this film as a remake, but as an adaptation. I see it as one that has a story that has been used for another film. We created a new story out of Reykjavik- Rotterdam, and we used that as our inspiration for Contraband.”