Dir/Scr: Jada Pinkett Smith. US. 2008. 106mins

A seriously-intended dramatic study of erotic obsession, jealousy and violence, Jada Pinkett Smith's debut feature The Human Contract is a messy and frequently furious entwining of the sacred and the profane. Despite some entertaining stretches and compensatory observations about contemporary Los Angeles, the work is finally undone by too frequent lapses into the overwrought or simply incomprehensible .

Produced by Overbrook Entertainment, Will Smith's production company, The Human Contract was directed by Pinkett Smith from her own script. While it attempts to subvert genre and received ideas about erotic gamesmanship, voyeurism and sexual hedonism, these notions are almost exclusively accessed from a male point of view, leaving the movie's more interesting, compelling female lead too dramatically undeveloped to register as a convincing figure.

The movie, which thematically suggests a melange of of 91/2 Weeks, Basic Instinct and Rising Sun, premiered at the Chicago International Film festival. Its adult material, sexual exhibition and the name recognition of Pinkett Smith (and her husband, a producer) should guarantee it some theatrical traction, especially in urban markets. Internationally, the presence of Paz Vega could pay dividends in the Spanish-language arena.

Visually, Pinkett Smith clearly relished her time working with Michael Mann on the director's Los Angeles crime thriller Collateral. The nighthawk LA imagery has a sensual pull and sometimes intoxicating rhythm. The story unfolds through a network of noteworthy urban architecture, glass and steel corporate offices and ultra sleek, chic high-rise apartments.

The movie's damaged central characters are introduced in the opening seconds. Julian Wright (Clarke) is naturally drawn to the sexually rapacious and highly suggestive Michael (Vega). Although he has been advised by his mentor (Danson) to avoid any personal embarrassment in order to facilitate a business merger by a culturally conservative conglomerate, Julian naturally finds himself straying repeatedly due to his increasing obsession with the mysterious Michael.

Unfortunately both characters are overburdened by a suffocating psychological profile. Michael is a self-mutilator. Julian's corporate rise is harshly contrasted against the personal drudgery of his pious, emasculating mother (Cassidy) and a sister (Pinkett Smith) who has been abused by her estranged husband.

Unraveling a part of Michael's hidden side only intensifies Julian's irrational and violent impulses. The lacerating self-punishment finally becomes too much for the story to bear. At best The Human Contract is unguarded, awkward and blunt. At worst it becomes an assault of the senses. Clarke gets the entitlement and the rage down perfectly; he goes a bit soft in his jealousy and need to possess her. Vega is a beautiful and a sharply carnal presence. Like Penelope Cruz's early roles in English, her lack of fluency and ease with idiom and language dulls her natural expressiveness and vibrancy.

Production companies

100% Woman

Overbrook Entertainment

Tycoon Entertainment

International sales

Lightning Entertainment

+ 1 (310) 255 7999


Dawn Thomas

Mike Jackson

Miguel Melendez


Darren Genet

Production designer

Carlos Barbosa


Michael Trent


Anthony Marinelli

Main cast

Jason Clarke

Paz Vega

Idris Elba

Ted Danson

Jada Pinkett Smith

Joanna Cassidy

Tava Smiley

Anne Ramsay