HOMEFRONT Review

It is always with a certain set of expectation that we approach the latest from Jason Statham. Usually, his name alone gives us a good indication as to what we're in for, but with his new film, Homefront, he breaks free of the slickly dressed, high-stakes city life many of his characters fit squarely into and decides to settle down into something akin to the quiet country life in small town Louisiana. Make no mistake, he still carries the badass history of a DEA agent that would frequently go undercover (we get a peak at this lifestyle in the opening scene of the film), but he is attempting to escape this world and thus is how we come to know his character, Phil Broker, which allows a different facade to the trope that Statham has inadvertently created for himself. This coupled with the fact he's not acting alone this time adds a level of intrigue and substance not seen in many of his recent, non-Expendable ventures. Not only do we have the chrome-domed action star heading things up, but a strong supporting cast including a hilariously ferocious James Franco, an impressive Kate Bosworth and Winona Ryder being utilized in just the right amount (with Omar Benson Miller thrown in for a dash of comedic relief) give more than enough reason for us to sit up and pay attention where we might normally feel we've seen this scenario one too many times before. It may simply be that the standard set of expectations were surpassed that allowed Homefront to leave a better impression, but there is that something special about this fun, throwback of an action flick that encapsulates pure, B-movie thrills with such expertise that it connects and delivers exactly what it promises while packing a little something extra in its punch.

Broker (Jason Statham) and his daughter, Maddy (Izabela Vidovic), go for a ride around their new home.
Written by Sylvester Stallone and adapted from Chuck Logan's series of novels based around the Phil Broker character, the film adaptation revolves around the former DEA agent and that familiar case of trying to quit and leave the crime fighting days behind in order to start fresh, only to be pulled back into the game following an unfortunate set of events. That set of events here is set into motion after Broker (Statham) decides he is done playing undercover agent after the death of his wife and moves he and his daughter to the town where she grew up so that their daughter may share many of the same experiences that crafted his wife and her mother into the woman she became. It doesn't really delve into that much depth as it is still a Jason Statham action movie, but the thought and intent is there which is nice. Statham's daughter, Maddy (Izabela Vidovic), gets into a fight with a little punk kid at school that thinks he can push the new girl around, but being as she is Statham's supposed offspring she knows a thing or two about defending herself and gives the kid a bloody nose. Of course it's his fault, but him being the one with the bruises, his parents (who are clearly to blame for the ignorance and rudeness their child now possesses with pride) try to place the blame solely on Maddy. The young boys parents, a crack addict played by a skin and bone Kate Bosworth and her cowardly husband (Marcus Hester) paint a mark on the back of both Broker and his daughter after going to Bosworth's brother, a local meth cook known as Gator Bodine and played with frenetically fun and intense energy by James Franco, and asking him to put a little scare in them. The Broker's are new in town and not accustomed to how things work and so Gator finds it his duty to let them know he pretty much runs things in these parts, including the local sheriff (an always welcome Clancy Brown), but develops much bigger plans upon finding out that Broker is ex-DEA and that his last case dealt with a biker gang in which Gator has a connection to in that he needs to get their permission and assistance in providing distribution of his product across the rest of the state. I'm assuming with all of these coincidences beginning to add up you can see where the film likely goes.

Of course, when speaking of coincidences in a film that fearlessly calls its baddie "Gator" you can only expect a certain amount of pedigree and the fact Homefront is so in your face about what it is and brazenly goes about re-affirming its qualities over and over again make this much more enjoyable than it should be. Most of that can in fact be attributed to Franco's performance as I at first found it odd he would find interest in appearing in a project like this, but as it became clear the persona he'd adapted for this film it also became clear that he took this job to try something different, something new while no doubt finding something completely opposite yet strangely familiar to that of Alien which he brought to life earlier this year in Spring Breakers. If Alien was the go-to drug dealer and bigger than life personality of southern Florida than Gator is the equivalent of what that would be in Rayville, Louisiana. Furthermore, we are wrapped up into the ever-evolving and excessively complicated plot by Gator's girlfriend and once drug-addicted waitress, Sheryl (Ryder), who I forgot was even in the movie until she comes in and adds another layer of, "Oh, shit!" to the proceedings by serving as the connection between Broker's past and present. It is strangely engaging how Statham commands the screen and emits an all-knowing presence despite being in the dark about what is actually going on in his new hometown for a good part of the movie. He walks around knowing he can pretty much dispose of any threat or talk his way out of any situation given his status and intentions and that confidence oozes out of his performance. What makes the film work is zeroing in on that weak spot of Broker's though, his daughter, and keeping the script lean and the editing interesting that way the story is delivered without any of the frills of typical storytelling weighing it down. There is a glimpse of a romantic interest for Statham in his daughters school counselor (Rachelle Lefevre), but this doesn't play a large role and neither does the backstory of what happened with his deceased wife. The film keeps its focus and the best example of this is in fact in the editing as several times throughout the film scenes are intercut with one another that show the going-ons of multiple characters at the same point in time not only upping the tension and keeping a good pace, but allowing the film to zip by rather than becoming boring and drug out.

Gator Bodine (James Franco) is clearly up to no good in Homefront.
Interestingly enough, a fair amount of themes come to the surface in Homefront that have to deal with pride and the inherent complexities of masculinity in which every man feels entitled to certain things and certain rights that will inevitably be tested throughout their life and all of which are pretty much unavoidable in Rayville it seems. These ideals come to mind early on in the film when the initial conflict takes place and Bosworth forces her husband to approach Broker demanding an apology for the injuries inflicted on their son and that he replace his kids new shirt that now has blood on it. Broker is more than willing to extend an apology for any hurt feelings or damaged goods, but when Bosworth doesn't find this satisfying and takes her issues to Gator it is interesting to see how Broker deals with the pressure put on by a few of his cronies. The situation could have played out very differently were Satham's character able to put aside his ego and his "toughness" and simply back away from the situation which might have, in the short run, made him look like the weaker component, but would have no doubt led to a more quickly resolved and minimal quarrel rather than having to prove his worth and escalating the situation into what eventually unfolds within the film. Of course, this has to happen because it is a movie and without conflict and bullheadedness there would be nothing worth making a movie about, but where Stallone makes this more than simply a characteristic of his protagonist and of many of the males he comes into contact with is when we understand why the film is set in the south. I haven't read any of the Chuck Logan novels and so I don't know how much of the details owe their debts to the script or the original source material, but the idea of this southern pride being used to re-enforce the macho stereotypes these characters seem unable to give up on is slyly clever and effective. For everyone involved here, reputation is bigger than respect and to lose one of them seems to render the other useless. Don't get me wrong, much like October's Escape Plan, this is not a movie that is anything close to being great, but it knows how to play to its strengths and pulls in its added bonuses of a credible supporting cast to transcend the typical Statham actioner and deliver a distracting time while subtly hinting at the cogs that keep this genre running.