Chris Pine and Kiefer Sutherland on their timely thriller 'The Contractor' and making sense of the Russia/Ukraine conflict

Prior to joining forces for the new military thriller The Contractor, Chris Pine and Kiefer Sutherland have separately battled a variety of global threats on the big and small screen. In recent weeks, both action stars have seen one of their fictional foes making real world headlines. In 2010, Sutherland's super-agent, Jack Bauer, battled upper echelon Russian officials in the eighth season of 24. Four years later, Pine played another famous super-agent, Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan, who was on the trail of corrupt Russian oligarchs in Kenneth's Branagh's Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.

Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the country's government as well as its wealthiest citizens are once again perceived as international villains. And both Pine and Sutherland note how their previous adventures seem newly relevant. "I guess we were onto something back then," Pine says of Shadow Recruit. "Obviously what's happening over there is awful, but as an artist you hopefully get to entertain and also raise deeper questions." (Watch our video interview above.)

For his part, Sutherland has been following news out of Ukraine and remembers seeing a news interview with a 14-year-old refugee who had fled the war-torn country for Poland, and was separated from her family in the process. "She was crying, and what she was crying about wasn't what you think it [was about]," he says. "It wasn't about the separation of her family, and it wasn't about the fact that her house had been bombed. She couldn't understand how, in 2022, this was allowed to happen."

"And that's what I can't get my [head around]: I understand an a**hole — they're everywhere," Sutherland continues, seemingly referring to Russian president Vladimir Putin. "But I can't understand how they're allowed to do it. And I think that's something as a world that we're gonna have to really contend with, because too few people have too much power and one person is allowed to disrupt our lives. This has disrupted the entire world. The math just doesn't make sense."

Kiefer Sutherland plays an Erik Prince-like figure in The Contractor. (Photo: Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/Courtesy Paramount Pictures)
Kiefer Sutherland plays an Erik Prince-like figure in The Contractor. (Photo: Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/Courtesy Paramount Pictures)

While it tells a fictional story, The Contractor is also very much rooted in real-world events. Written by J.P. Davis and directed by Tarik Saleh, the film stars Pine as former soldier James Harper, who is cut loose by the military and finds lucrative employment with Sutherland's private contractor Rusty Jennings.

Unlike the bigger private contractors — think Blackwater founder Erik Prince, who is referenced disparagingly in the film — Jennings likes to think of his outfit as a family. But when Harper and his friend Mike (Ben Foster) are sent abroad on a mission that goes wrong, that family inevitably turns against each other.

Pine previously explored the theme of an individual who is betrayed by an institution he trusted in the 2016 drama Hell or High Water, which also co-starred Foster. "I don't know why I'm compelled by that," he observes. "Just in terms of story structure, I think we always find interest in heroes that defy convention or norms and follow their own inner moral compass. We find bravery in that and courage in that and hope to be as strong as they are."

Chris Pine as James Harper in The Contractor. (Photo: Vlad Cioplea/Courtesy Paramount Pictures)
Chris Pine as James Harper in The Contractor. (Photo: Vlad Cioplea/Courtesy Paramount Pictures)

Asked whether there are institutions he's come to question in his own life, the actor says he has a "heightened awareness" around the way money has been able to influence politics and distinguishing a democracy from a corporatocracy. Making The Contractor also changed his perception on what America asks of its soldiers.

"We, as a nation state, indoctrinate young men and women to fight wars on our behalf," he says. "In doing so, you train people to kill and to maim and to hurt — it's part and parcel of what it means to be a warrior. We then ask these people after they fight for us to come back home ... and be normal once again. But we don't oftentimes take into account the tremendous psychological and emotional toll that those actions have on the individual. This film raises those issues for contemplation."

Sutherland agrees that Americans should be "concerned" about the way that private contracting firms take advantage of former soldiers's fragile mental states. "You're told that you're part of this Marine family, or this Navy SEALs family, and then you're not and that's a very difficult thing to deal with," he notes. "These guys are so tough, but also so emotionally raw, because of the way they're let go [from the military]. And that need to belong makes you very vulnerable, and [private contractors] take advantage of that."

Chris Pine is a man on a mission in The Contractor. (Photo: Vlad Cioplea/Courtesy Paramount Pictures)
James Harper (Pine) is left behind enemy lines in The Contractor. (Photo: Vlad Cioplea/Courtesy Paramount Pictures)

Sutherland also notes that The Contractor's message can't be reduced to "Yay America" or "Bad America," when it comes to the country's involvement in overseas affairs. "When you're considered to be the number one military in the world, there's a responsibility that comes with that. We want our country to be respected and revered as opposed to reviled. So these are the things that we will have to deal with."

Video produced by Anne Lilburn and edited by John Santo

The Contractor is currently playing in theaters and on most VOD services.