By: Anthony Francis
I ignored this film when it was released, as Jason Statham films were becoming a retread of the same over-the-top goofiness film after film and I was burned out. There is also the fact that I failed to catch that Sylvester Stallone wrote the screenplay. If I would have paid closer attention, that fact alone would have drawn me in. Stallone is no David Mamet, but the man can craft an entertaining screenplay and knows his way around an Action film.
Based on the Chuck Logan book of the same name, Sly wrote the screenplay for himself but the years went on and he gave it to his “Expendables” buddy, Jason Statham.
A proper throwback to the kind of Action Thrillers from the 70s and, to a point, the 1980s, “Homefront” is a character-driven film that keeps the action sequences down to Earth and never lets it get too outlandish.
A particularly good Jason Statham plays Phil Broker, an ex-DEA agent who, after the death of his wife, retires with his daughter Maddy (Izabella Vidovic) to a small backwoods town in Louisiana to live out a quiet life and put his past behind him.
Of course, this cannot be done. Broker has a run in with Cassie Bodine Klum, a meth-addicted redneck (Kate Bosworth, finally giving a good performance) that spirals into going head-to-head with her drug dealing brother Gator (a massively miscast James Franco).
Through a series of convenient coincidences, Gator uncovers Broker’s past and strikes a dangerous deal with Danny T, the imprisoned biker-gang leader that Broker brought down and whose son the ex-agent had a hand in killing. Chuck Zito’s role as Danny T is small but memorable, as the actor exudes pure menace and danger, even from behind bars.
Winona Ryder is quite good in a different-for-her role as Gator’s girlfriend Sheryl, who becomes a pawn in the unholy deal.
The great Clancy Brown is the town’s sheriff. While not a villain and not directly involved in any illegal activities, his character looks the other way while Gator manages his drug business, allowing it all to happen on his watch.
By the time the biker gang comes for vengeance (they are there to kill Broker AND his little daughter), the audience has been primed for some old-fashioned bad ass shootouts and fight scenes. And when they come, they are well filmed and wire tight.
Director Gary Fleder and his stunt team keep the action moments intense and believable. Sure, Statham can beat up everyone and the bad guys can’t shoot their target to save their lives, but this is expected. As I recall, it was the rare time when Charles Bronson or Clint Eastwood took a bullet.
Frank Grillo (the man of the hour when it comes to pure-born tough guys) is Cyrus Hanks, the leather-clad leader of the bikers who come for Statham. With a deceptive smile that barely hides the devil within, Cyrus is all sweat, piercing eyes, and pure violence. He comes in and takes full control, wasting no time cutting a path straight to Broker while threatening to destroy Gator, Sheryl, and their entire drug business just because he can.
The action moments are peppered throughout with some good hand to hand scenes while the big gunplay is saved for the very end. Each moment of violence is earned, as Stallone’s screenplay has crafted such well-drawn characters that we are fully invested in everyone’s fates.
Bosworth’s character has an unexpected arc that is quite welcome and adds to the realism of the film.
There were only a couple decent reviews, but critics mostly disliked the film. While the film made a respectable 50-plus million at the box office off of a 22-million-dollarbudget, in today’s Hollywood (after recouping advertising and distribution costs) it wasn’t considered a major hit.
I wish I had not ignored it in theaters, as I really liked it eons more than I imagined I would have.
Does it have flaws? A few, but only one that is a major deficit. James Franco.
For the most part, I like Franco as an actor, but he is woefully miscast here. As the film introduces him, we are told that Gator is a man to be feared. His first scene has him carrying a baseball bat and threatening a group of teens who have come to smoke dope in one of his warehouses.
The scene is meant to set up our “scary” villain. While I admit that I am far from Robert Mitchum, James Franco is about as menacing as Pee Wee Herman.
“Home Front” is a modern Hollywood Action film that genuinely surprised me with its character building. It takes time and lets its audience get to know everyone both good and bad. Broker’s moments with his daughter have a palpable sweetness, as he struggles to give his daughter a good life despite of their predicament and a couple of side characters are more than their surface presentation will lead us to believe.
I find this to be one of Jason Statham’s best films and this is the type of Action piece he should do more of.
Only eight years after its release, this has become an undervalued gem of the genre.