Movie Review - Homefront
December 19, 2013
There couldn't be a more appropriate film to hit theatres this Thanksgiving weekend than HOMEFRONT. Based on Chuck Logan's best selling novel, HOMEFRONT is rooted in hearth and home. Adapted for the screen by Sylvester Stallone, HOMEFRONT boasts a stellar cast, performances that go through the roof and a perfect blend of action and emotion, all expertly choreographed by director Gary Fleder. Led by Jason Statham and James Franco, each performance is as superb as the next, particularly when it comes to Kate Bosworth and the breakout star of the film, Izabela Vidovic. With emotion as electrifying as the action itself, HOMEFRONT brings it all home with a grounded story, well crafted and textured characters, and a father-daughter relationship that will make the eyes and hearts of every dad and daughter out there smile (and get a bit misty).
Phil Broker is a former DEA agent who, on the passing of his wife - and after a drug bust gone bad - together with his young daughter, has moved to a pastoral and bucolic town in the Louisiana bayou. Like the ex-lawmen of classic John Ford westerns, Broker now wants a quiet life, away from the guns, the drugs and the violence. He wants to grieve and grow and make a life for his daughter that is safe and happy. Unfortunately, Broker has had limited experience in "small town ways" and quickly finds out that your business becomes everybody's business and everybody sticks their noses into everything, including each other's pockets. Such is the case when Broker's daughter gets bullied at school by the nephew of local meth manufacturer, Gator Bodine. Of course, Broker doesn't know Gator is a drug dealer and Gator doesn't know Broker is former DEA...at least for now.
When Maddy Broker defends herself against Teddy Klum, all hell breaks loose as his parents, particularly his mother Cassie, demand recompense for Maddy's punch. But for a tweaked out mother like Cassie, an apology isn't going to suffice and she calls on brother Gator to "make Broker pay", leading to an all out feud between the Bodines and Brokers. Adding fuel to the fire is that not only is Broker still a lawman at heart, he is first and foremost a father. With the discovery of a drug lab in his new home, escalating violence at the hands of Gator and his boys, and the kidnapping of Maddy and her little kitten Luther, Broker is back in the saddle as no price is too high when it comes to protecting his home and his child.
Jason Statham can do no wrong and I adore him more with every role. A man of few words on screen, his roles have been increasing with dialogue and taking him beyond a quiet man of action to a man with a heart. We saw that transformation start to emerge with "Transporter 2" and his character's fierce protection of a young boy. Statham then took that paternal protective instinct a notch higher in "Safe". But now, with HOMEFRONT, he achieves a perfect blend of lawman and father with his emotion and story arc as vibrant and exciting as every punch he throws! Going toe-to-toe with Izabela Vidovic as daughter Maddy, Statham goes through the roof with emotion. Controlled, strong, fiercely protective and loyal, we see the action Statham we know and love as he goes "mano y mano" with James Franco and Gator's henchmen. But then the camera captures the intimate moments with Vidovic or the little black cat Luther, and Statham melts your heart. There is not a moment you don't believe that they are father and daughter. He has ruined the world for all other men with his performance as Broker. Flawed, emotional, a broken heart but always able to light up when he's around his daughter, fine physical specimen. No man can ever hold a candle to Statham after this performance.
STUNNING is Izabela Vidovic who is like a pint-sized female Statham. Emotion for emotion, move for move, smart ass look or response to mirror Statham, Vidovic is the real deal. And the chemistry between she and Statham is electric. Together they leave you begging for more.
When it comes to James Franco, what can I say but Franco is Franco is Franco - a delicious delight that you know will amp up the emotion with unpredictability and even a touch of humor. As Gator, he doesn't disappoint. Discriminating in his performances, but so often known for the offbeat, darker twists of character, interesting is how Franco finds a level of humanity in the violent and unlikeable Gator. Describing HOMEFRONT as a "well-constructed movie" with a "good villain that I could have a lot of fun with", Franco "thought there were two key things to be brought out with Gator. In the original script I read, he did everything that was in the script, but he didn't really care about his sister. She was addicted to drugs and he would hold it over her head. So I went to the book. . .and realized that, in fact, there was a much more complex relationship to be had, that he actually loves his sister and cares about her and probably likes her more than she likes him. . .He wants to give her everything that he can, and it kills him that the thing that she wants is what he knows is killing her. I thought there's a more complex relationship. That will help humanize this character." The second prong for Franco was Winona Ryder's character, Gator's girlfriend Sheryl Mott. "I thought it would be more interesting if he was insecure about this relationship, and it turns out she was seeing one of the other gangsters before, and it upsets Gator. I thought it would make it a little bit more unusual that he could be insecure in this relationship rather than just, "I run this show," and that she's the boss of the relationship until the end." Also important to Franco and his interpretation of Gator is that "I think it helps serve the movie if he's not just a bad guy that's there as a device; that he is somebody that does bad things, and you don't condone his actions, but you can understand why he's doing it."
Delivering one of the best performances of her career, if not the best, is Kate Bosworth. As tweaked out, drug dependent mother Cassie, Bosworth turns on a dime and goes from bitch to protective lioness. This is truly tour de force work that, quite honestly, warrants awards attention. For Bosworth, "The interest in playing this character was connecting to the humanity and to also not strip her of her dignity." Key to Bosworth's performance is her immersion into the physicality of the role. In order to achieve the drug-induced emaciated look necessary for Cassie, "I got very little sleep. The physicality was something that the role required. She's someone who's abusing herself every day and that starts to take a toll. . . [we] wanted to make sure that she was far gone enough that there was a real danger to her physicality, and an edginess to her, and a discomfort, and constant agitation, but that she wasn't so far gone that there was not a point of no return." Bosworth succeeds in spades.
2013 has been a good year for Winona Ryder, first with "The Iceman" and now as Sheryl Mott in HOMEFRONT as Ryder delivers another powerhouse performance. What Ryder found interesting and tapped into in bringing Sheryl to life was "the fact that my character was actually not doing meth. She had done it, but she was part of this operation that was dealing. To me, that was as diabolical as you could get because she knows what happens. It happened to her. She knows how bad it gets. She knows it destroys lives. Yet she's sober and she's enabling and getting people [hooked]. But of course, that comes from damage and severe pain . . .what these women had to go through to get into these biker gangs, which is pretty horrific and very degrading, you can't do something like that and not be an incredibly damaged person."
Some personal supporting faves buttress HOMEFRONT with authenticity and texture, starting with Frank Grillo. As drug dealer Cyrus, Grillo gets to excel at being an authoritative, violent ass. As we have seen time and again from Grillo, he adds this argumentative edge to his character that rubs folks the wrong way and fuels the fires of commanding attention. He does it again here as Cyrus steps outside the box and wants to do things his own way. Grillo really pushes the envelope to great effect. As the somewhat corrupted Sheriff Keith Rodrigue, Clancy Brown adds depth and reality to the flavor of small town structure. According to Brown, "When I read the script, I thought, 'This is a helluva script.'" A real joy is Omar Benson Miller. Beyond charming in "Shall We Dance" some years back, Miller can turn on a dime with character but he always connects with you as a viewer. As Broker's handyman carpenter and friend Tito, he has heart, he has loyalty. Through Tito and well crafted dialogue, the audience and Broker are brought up to speed on the redneck southern culture and the identity of the players. Miller is beyond likeable.
Had I not known going in that Sylvester Stallone had written HOMEFRONT, I would have known within the first 15 minutes; and by film's end there is no way in hell for someone not to know Stallone wrote this. He has a wonderful format of construct that has finally come into its own and matured as he has matured. Where his early "Rocky" and "Rambo" scripts focused on singular character with supporting characters somewhat peripheral and not given full construct, thanks in large part, I believe, to "Expendables", Stallone now not only has a full compliment of characters in HOMEFRONT, but each is fully developed and formed, nothing and no one is extraneous or gratuitous; every piece of dialogue is essential to the story and - very key with guys like Statham who is so delicious with smart-aleck retorts - is planted early in the film in one context, but then comes full circle to be reiterated in a different context that just takes the double entendre to new levels. Stallone is masterful with the dialogue construct for the characters of Broker and Gator, playing to the verbal strengths of Statham and Franco. Delicious! As Statham notes, "He's such a prolific writer, and I think it's easy to forget how many films he's actually written. He really does care. He writes with a lot of heart. Instead of just concentrating on a couple of characters, he fills the whole story with great roles and he does it very, very well."
Moving the story location from Minnesota, as was the setting in Logan's book, to Louisiana was a brilliant decision, opening up the visuals and allowing for stronger visual and emotional bandwidth thanks to the very nature of the historical zeitgeist of the region ingrained in public consciousness. We immediately buy into the redneck meth lab and the idea that everyone in these small backwater towns takes the law into their own hands. Stallone brings HOMEFRONT literally to our own backdoor.
What stands out with the script is the father-daughter dynamic, obviously something that Stallone was attracted to. Family is a core theme in HOMEFRONT - the family of the biker gang "The Outcasts", the family of Broker and Maddy, the trailer trash family of Cassie and Jimmy Blum, not to mention Gator Bodine, and even the "family" connection of Sheryl and Gator. Family is the core. Even Luther the kitty is an important part of the Broker family!
One of the most appreciative aspects of the script is that Stallone doesn't leave us hanging. There is a full and satisfying resolution to every character and every sub-plot of HOMEFRONT, none of which I am going to disclose, but suffice it to say, you won't be scratching your head wondering what happened to whom.
But let's talk about director Gary Fleder and the design of the film. Fleder knows how to manage tension. We saw it more than a decade ago with "Don't Say A Word" and even moreso with "Kiss the Girls." Fleder uses visual design to upset the apple cart and keep the audience off guard and with HOMEFRONT he does it beautifully. Thanks to well crafted characters and plausible plot points, Fleder plays with us as the intricacies of the different revenges play out. Critical is Pat McKinley's editing which holds the pacing. Gotta love the fact that, as with most Statham films, there is a lot of hand-to-hand action with minimal explosions driving the story or action. It's that personal connection, the thud of a fist landing a punch or bones cracking that immerse one in the scene, something that Fleder uses to storytelling advantage here. (In that regard, big Whoo Hoo for the stunt guys led by Brad Martin. And a nod to the legendary Epper family who have a few family members kicking some ass in here doing stunts....ah, that word "family" again!)
With the exception of possibly "High Crimes", cinematographer Theo Van de Sande lights and lenses with a singular tone within a film. Be it "Once Around", "Volcano" or even "Beauty Shop" each Van de Sande film has a distinct visual look that carries through the whole film. With HOMEFRONT, he really mixes it up capturing and celebrating the beauty and tranquility of the deep south with the Broker home, the river, the trees dripping with Spanish moss, delicacy of the sunlight streaming through the trees, capturing the milkweed floating on rays of the sun. Then, Fleder and Van de Sande throw us off balance with the rich saturation of Gator's boat shop and meth lab and then yet another tonal contrast with the opening DEA raid that's dark, murky, ashen. Yet, despite the differing tones, all are symbiotic and feel related within the context of this story, fueling the familial feuds with rich visual subtext. Giving Van de Sande full kudos, Fleder notes, "I think the film is beautiful."
Thanks to production designer Greg Berry, attention to detail is meticulous - from the meth lab and Broker's sabotage of it, to the horse stables to the yellow daisy's on Maddy's sheets. No detail is overlooked in establishing who each and every character and demographic is. Important to director Fleder was "to get a film that felt like it wasn't again a cartoon or caricature, but really felt like it was a real place. Gator's barn, which is an amazing set, was built from nothing. It wasn't there. It wasn't some location. In fact, when Jason walked in the first day of shooting, he said, 'How long has this been here?' I said, 'A week, two weeks.' Literally, it's an astonishing collaboration between designer and DP [Van de Sande]. . . For me, as a director, finding locations, rather than looking for what's in my head, the thing is to look around and to see what's out there."
As much heart-pounding action as heart-stopping emotion, HOMEFRONT brings it home with action and heart.
Directed by Gary Fleder
Written by Sylvester Stallone based on the novel by Chuck Logan
Cast: Jason Statham, James Franco, Kate Bosworth, Winona Ryder, Izabela Vidovic, Clancy Brown, Frank Grillo