A Guide To Movie Smugglers

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The release of We're The Millers this week got us talking about the continuing popularity of smuggling in films, with practitioners generally portrayed as likeable scallywags rather than dodgy ne'er-do-wells. We were moved to take another look at movie smugglers, and compile a list of advice for those tempted to follow them into the smuggling game.

A word of warning, however: this advice is only applicable on the movie screen. It will not work in real life, and in fact will probably get you arrested.

Movie: Star Wars (1977)
Contraband: Whaddaya got?

The Star Wars films euphemistically talk of ‘cargos’ and ‘shipments’ to avoid getting into exactly what Han Solo is a smuggler of, but expanded universe tales and retcons have established he was in hoc to Jabba over a batch of the druggy spice Glitterstim. Of course, he also smuggles rebels and droids to defeat evil Empires. This is more by happenstance than ideology.

Do: Attempt the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs.

Don’t: Get on the wrong side of a Hutt.

Movie: In the Line Of Fire (1993)
Contraband: A gun

John Malkovich’s nutcase assassin in the Clint Eastwood thriller is an enthusiastic model-maker, and uses those nerdy skills to build a plastic double-barrelled composite pistol. It fires .38 calibre ammunition and works remarkably consistently given the materials. And it’s invisible to metal detectors at presidential events.

Do: Search him very carefully.

Don’t: Go out on a duck hunt if he’s in the vicinity.

Film: Scarface (1983)
Contraband: Cocaine. Mountains of cocaine

Montana rises from poverty-stricken Cuba to mansion-dwelling Miami on the pack of a multi-million dollar narcotic empire. Which proves that crime totally pays, unless you happen to be on the wrong end of a chainsaw, or a clown in a fat suit, or married to Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, or standing above a fountain with a grenade launcher.

Do: Say hello to his little friend.

Don’t: Overindulge in your own merchandise.

Movie: Cut-Throats Nine (1972)
Contraband: Gold

Brown’s genius plan is to sneak a tonne of gold through hostile Western bandit territory by disguising it as the chain attached to a chain gang. This is an excellent scheme until the convicts discover it and realise that a) they have been deemed completely expendable, and b) they’re attached to a fortune. Still, Brown’s was a nice idea: just poorly executed. And “executed” is the word. Possibly about to be remade with Harvey Keitel and Mads Mikkelsen.

Do: Buy a decent tin of paint.

Don’t: Bring your daughter to the slaughter.

Movie: Traffic (2000)
Contraband: Cocaine

Previously oblivious to her husband’s trade, Helena soon learns when he’s arrested and sent to trial. Naturally, she then dives head first into the cartel business, making deals with kingpin Juan Obregon, and hiring Clifton Collins Jr. to assassinate Miguel Ferrer. As one would.

Do: Make sure you get away with it.

Don’t: Take cocaine while pregnant.

Movie: Miami Vice (2006)
Contraband: Drugs (undercover cop)

Managing to get past the intense scrutiny of their Colombian marks, detectives Crockett and Tubbs dig into their new lives as traffickers with fancy “go-fast boats”, but there’s concern that Crockett is getting in too deep when he falls in love with Gong Li. It doesn’t end happily, especially when you factor in the end credits nu-metal cover version of Phil Collins’ In the Air Tonight.

Do: Pop over to Cuba for a mojito.

Don’t: Give big guns to the Aryan Brotherhood.

Movie: Maria Full of Grace (2004)
Contraband: Cocaine

Desperate to escape a job de-thorning roses on a flower plantation, Maria accepts the offer of a spot of drug muling, swallowing 60-odd pellets of cocaine and heading to New York from Colombia. It is, shall we say, an unpleasant business. It works out reasonably well for Maria, but not so much for her friend Lucy.

Do: Be pregnant to avoid the X-ray machine.

Don’t: Let your pellets rupture.

Movie: Blood Diamond (2006)
Contraband: Blood diamonds (and guns)

Various factions compete for an immensely precious pink stone in Sierra Leone, in Ed Zwick’s tense political thriller. Archer is a gunrunner who meets the stone’s original finder Solomon Vandy in prison. He wants it to fund a permanent departure from Africa, but he and Vandy find themselves up against Afrikaner military man Colonel Coetzee and warlord Captain Poison.

Do: Pull off a surprisingly good white Rhodesian accent.

Don’t: Allow your neck to get anywhere near a shovel.

Movie: Mr. Nice (2010)
Contraband: Marijuana

Based loosely on Howard Marks’ autobiography, the film charts the author’s journey out of the Welsh valleys to Oxford University, to teacher-training in London and thence to a dope-dealing life of cheerful cat-and-mouse games with the authorities. Many absurd disguises are worn, and the IRA are occasionally irritated.

Do: Write a bestselling book and get played onscreen by Rhys Ifans.

Don’t: Get caught and spend seven years in an American prison

Movie: American Gangster (2007)
Contraband: Heroin

The IMDb threads are full of kids complaining this film has a stupid plot, which is testament to the stranger-than-fiction nature of its absolutely-true central premise. Lucas becomes a crime kingpin in Harlem through distribution of heroin strain Blue Magic, which he sources from Thailand and smuggles back to the US in the coffins of dead serviceman being shipped home from the Vietnam war. The genius plan is a success, funding an empire of clubs and prostitution. And he would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for that meddling Russell Crowe.

Do: Look after your old mother.

Don’t: Draw attention to yourself by wearing a pimp outfit to the Fight of the Century.