I issued an official position paper on Mark Wahlberg’s nonexistent acting skills some time ago, and proceeded to do my best to forget he even existed. But in the course of my web browsing last week, I saw a blurb for this review from Dana Stevens; its gushing reference to Marky Mark’s masculinity made me choke back a laugh/cough before doing my best to scrub that memory from existence as well.
I won’t try to make the case, as Adam Sternbergh half-jokingly did on the Times’ 6th Floor blog early this week, that Wahlberg has been cheated of his due as the greatest actor of his generation. Though there’s no question he’s been wonderful in movies as diverse as Three Kings, Boogie Nights, The Fighter, and I Heart Huckabees, Wahlberg is no accent-mastering shape-shifter, no saturnine Leo Di Caprio or whimsical Johnny Depp: What you see is what you get. But this true-to-his-word decency, this simplicity, is precisely what you cast Wahlberg for. I had plenty of time to consider the actor’s appeal during the unspooling of the otherwise nondescript Contraband, and here’s what I came up with: Mark Wahlberg is attractive because he seems genuinely, effortlessly masculine rather than anxiously, compensatorily macho. You believe he could singlehandedly spearhead an international smuggling scheme while also believing he’s a sweet, vulnerable family man hopelessly in love with his wife.
Oh, you do, do you? Well, apparently, he believes it himself, if nothing else:
On being scheduled to be on one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center on 9/11:
“If I was on that plane with my kids, it wouldn’t have went down like it did. There would have been a lot of blood in that first-class cabin and then me saying, ‘OK, we’re going to land somewhere safely, don’t worry.’”
I like to imagine the scene as a story of three faces: the interviewer struggling mightily to maintain a poker face as he/she dutifully records the soundbite that will launch a million page hits, the publicist with eyes frantically bugging out, grimacing, and making an abrupt throat-slashing gesture, and, of course, the utterly vacant, expressionless gaze of Wahlberg himself, his beady eyes staring off into the distance as he softly hums a stirring film score to accompany his not-at-all anxious or overcompensating fantasy.