– Summary –
Director : Gary Fleder
Year Of Release : 2013
Principal Cast : Jason Statham, James Franco, Winona Ryder, Kate Bosworth, Chuck Zito, Clancy Brown, Frank Grillo, Rachelle Lefevre, Omar Benson Miller, Izabela Vidovic.
Approx Running Time : 100 Minutes
Synopsis: A former undercover DEA Agent is relocated to a backwater Louisiana community to escape reprisals from an imprisoned Bikie, only to find he’s walked smack into a local drug-dealer’s turf, a dealer who wants to climb the ladder and will stop at nothing to get what he wants.
What we think : Tone-deaf thriller can’t salvage much from the wreckage of this, a Sly Stallone-scribed “action” story that is light on action, large on character development, and slow to deliver a knock-out punch. Statham is his typical proto-hero self, Franco has a blast as a wicked redneck kingpin (as do both Ryder and Bosworth), and Gary Fleder’s direction wavers between solid and incomprehensible – it’s a fantastic mess of a film, one which will delight Statham fans (who have long complained he never gets roles with any substance) and annoy everyone else; Homefront is hilariously stupid garbage.
From the Oscar-winning writer of Rocky.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again (and no doubt in the future, it’ll be reiterated even further): you know exactly what you’re gonna get with a Jason Statham movie. Action, tough-guy cliches, and plenty of bodies strewn about, either killed or at least seriously maimed. What you won’t typically find is a large amount of development in things such as plot, character or point, but in Homefront, director Gary Fleder and screenplay typist Sylvester Stallone (yes, that Sylvester Stallone) at least try to give the film something more than simplistic characters and inane fight sequences. Fleder, who helmed Don’t Say A Word starring Michael Douglas, and Runaway Jury with the one-two punch of Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman, ascribes to the popular modern technique of filming all his action sequences with a hundred cameras, and making sure we get a few frames of each subsequent angle in every scene. It’s a discombobulating and frantic style that works when used only sparingly, but Homefront appears to use it all the damn time. Be warned. Even saying that, for all it’s visual nonsense, Homefront manages to remain relatively restrained throughout much of its running time – as lead actor Jason Statham does battle with resident baddies James Franco, Winona Ryder, and Kate Bosworth.
Undercover DEA Agent Phil Broker (Statham) has been working on a case for months, infiltrating a drug trafficking ring run by a motorcycle gang, the leader of whom, Danny T (Chuck Zito) sees his son gunned down after a sting operation goes horribly wrong. With Danny T seeking retribution, the agency relocates Broker and his daughter Maddy (Izabela Vidovic) to a small community in the backwater of Louisiana, where he takes up repairing his run-down house with local resident Tito (Omar Benson Miller). When she’s bullied at school, Maddy uses her father’s training to kick the kids ass, which brings into frame local redneck troublemakers, the Bodine’s, led by Morgan “Gator” Bodine (James Franco), his sister Cassie (Kate Bosworth) and a former meth-whore by the name of Sheryl (Winona Ryder). Gator, better known as the local methamphetamine distributor, discovers Broker’s past, and uses this information to try and gain favor with the same bikie club run by Danny T. With Broker trying to protect his daughter from harm, and remain peaceful and out of the way, it doesn’t take long for things to escalate as a group of violent bikes, led by Cyrus Hanks (Frank Grillo) arrive in town to exact some payback.
It’s an irony of our society these days that we expect out action heroes to not only bash the living shit out of a person, chuck out a witty remark, and carry on with their lives, but to get all angsty and melancholy when put to the test by those of lower moral character. We ask them to emote, to think about the repercussions of their actions, and when they don’t, we exclaim them as some kind of passionless, emotion-free stump; yet, when they do, they somehow lose their masculinity (assuming we’re talking about male action heroes here) and become lesser for it. We want our men brutal and testosterone0-fuelled, yet we want them to consider our feelings too. It never made much sense – as sexist as it is, men aren’t terribly good at doing two things at the same time, so expecting an action star like Jason Statham to bash the snot out of a hundred thugs while he ponders the existential meaning of existence just ain’t gonna happen.
Homefront attempts to have this happen; it doesn’t work, but it’s a valiant effort. The film is based on a novel by Chuck Logan, and adapted for the screen by Sylvester Stallone, one of Statham’s on-screen buddies in the Expendables movies, and a man who has touched Oscar glory with his writing work on the seminal Rocky. Stallone’s screenplay is muscular, tough and uncompromising, although it does offer some reasonable character development to not only Statham’s lock-jawed Broker, but also to James Franco’s crazy-loon Gator, a man described as “not true” by Omar Benson Miller’s Tito. Where the film falls over is that it starts to develop a plot or character, and simply leaves them hanging when the crap his the fan in the film’s action-packed third act.
Faces such as Rachelle Lefevre, as one of Maddy’s teachers, come and go without really doing much other than filling in time, while Kate Bosworth’s howlingly terrific performance as a drug-addled, crazy-redneck loon is probably the most accomplished in the whole film, yet she’s missing from the entire second half of the movie! Even Clancy Brown’s Sherriff character, who is (according to Tito) onside with Gator in that he looks the other way when the meth starts flowing, never receives any disciplinary action or comeuppance for his tacit approval of what transpires, even after he quite blatantly takes Broker’s side late in the film. Missed opportunities abound in Homefront, where the focus on Broker and his daughter is pleasing yet unrewarding, since it just peters out in a hail of gunfire, explosions and ranting from gap-toothed hick hillbillies with no redeeming features at all.
The first half of the film spends a great deal of time setting up all the players, offering up some mild plot machinations in getting the bikers to Broker’s home to exact revenge, but by then it’s all too late. Statham’s character has an internal conflict between getting involved in criminal activity and putting a stop to it, or keeping his daughter out of harm’s way – and you just know somewhere along the line she’s going to be right in harms way! – but this arc isn’t developed well enough, or given enough nuance by Statham’s refusal to act any other way than “pissed off”, so it kinda falls flat. Statham is commendable in bringing some attempt at “acting” to his performance here, but he ain’t no Olivier, so it all becomes somewhat laughable when he’s trying to comfort his crying daughter at one point.
James Franco nearly steals the film from Statham, with his ice-cold meth-dealer antics. Even stranger, Kate Bosworth and Winona Ryder almost steal the film from him, they’re so good in their horrifyingly against-type roles. Bosworth, in particular, is nearly unrecognizable as the same woman who played Lois Lane in Superman Returns, it’s such a dazzling, tic-laden performance that you won’t soon forget it. It’s equally fun watching Ryder scratch an itch as a junkie whore seeking a better life, all scungy and mangy like a ragged feral dog. This trio of performances nearly salvages Homefront from being a total train-wreck, and as it stands it still isn’t that great a film; what I’m saying is that it could have been worse.
Although it misses a lot of the marks it tries to hit, Homefront remains entertaining simply as an aberration of action cinema. It has little excitement, highly iffy character work and some plot-lines that vanish completely midway through the movie, but Statham’s grudging persona and Franco’s snarky, snake-like Gator still engage the audience even when the whole thing feels like it’s stuck in first gear. The action is brutal – yet nigh incomprehensible thanks to Fleder’s itchy edit finger – and the final act carnage is bruising and bloody, but ultimately it’s all for naught as this slipshod, scatter-shot thriller winds its way to a rather predictable climax. Homefront is middle-ground Statham fare (which is probably higher than the majority of his films, really!) and should be approached as such. At least it’s better than The Mechanic.