Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Homefront (2013)

Director: Gary Fleder                                          Writer: Sylvester Stalone
Film Score: Nathan Johnson                              Cinematography: Steve Yedlin
Starring: Jason Statham, James Franco, Kate Bosworth and Wynona Rider

I gotta say, I’m not a big fan of Sylvester Stalone, even the Rocky films. But I have to hand it to him here in putting together an impressive film. Granted, it wasn’t his story--Homefront is based on the novel by Chuck Logan--but Stalone put the film together from the production side and even wrote the screenplay. One imagines that even twenty years ago he would have tried to play the lead, which would have ruined it. But here he gives way to a new generation of action heroes, Jason Statham, whom he had worked with on The Expendables films, and his generosity really pays off. Statham is a natural, especially after all of the hand-to-hand work he had done on Luc Besson’s Transporter series, and turned what could have been an ordinary action film into something quite good. What a lot of these films tend to rely on is the element of surprise, but Stalone’s script eschews that for something even better: suspense. The audience knows what is coming, and the sense of being powerless to stop it is tremendous. At the same time it doesn’t leave the protagonist in the dark, either, and that adds an element of sophistication to the proceedings that is a welcome change from most of the genre.

The film opens on a DEA drug bust of a biker gang that is running a meth lab out of the back of a bar. The inside man on the job is Jason Statham, with a rather bad looking long-hair wig. Running the drug operation is head biker Chuck Zito and his crazy son Linds Edwards. When the bust goes down and Statham grabs Edwards to prevent him from shooting one of the cops, Zito knows he’s the snitch, and tries to kill him before he and Edwards make their getaway. But Statham follows them on a motorcycle and in the ensuing chase Edwards is killed and Zito vows revenge. Flash forward two years later and Statham and his daughter, Izabela Vidovic are living in a small town in Louisiana. He is a widower and trying to start over by restoring an old house. At school, however, Vidovic gets picked on by a bully and when she beats him bloody, his white trash parents, Kate Bosworth and Marcus Hester, go after Statham. When Statham takes down Hester, Bosworth then runs to her brother, local meth dealer James Franco, and demands that he do something. After Franco breaks into Statham’s house and discovers he is a former DEA agent and what he did, he gets in contact with the imprisoned Zito through meth head Wynona Rider, and all out war is declared.

The film is sort of a cross between Cape Fear and Taken. While Statham is out in the back woods of Louisiana attempting to protect his daughter from a crazed meth cooker, he has plenty of law enforcement background that allows him an edge over his hillbilly enemies. There are a couple of other nice supporting roles that, unfortunately, don’t go anywhere in the film. The school psychologist is played by Rachelle Lefevre, and while she and Statham connect at Vidovic’s birthday party, nothing comes of it before the finale. The other nice part is Clancy Brown as the redneck sheriff and partner of Franco. Forever associated with his role in The Shawshank Redemption, he has a nice opportunity to step out of that shadow but isn’t given the time. It does make sense, though. The streamlining of the film is also one of the things that gives it real momentum and doesn’t allow the suspense to flag. The other disappointing gap in logic is that in the playground Vidovic has some real combat skills, and yet doesn’t use them when she’s being abducted. Franco also makes some stupid choices, even when Rider points them out to him. But none of that is enough to really keep the film from being great. Homefront is a terrific action picture that is recommended to fans of the genre, and a must see for fans of Statham and Stalone.

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