Editor’s Notes: Homefront opens wide November 27th.
“I don’t know my way home.”
“That’s okay. I don’t either.”
Those were the last lines of Sam Peckinpah’s controversial 1971 film Straw Dogs when Dustin Hoffman’s disillusioned savant drove away from his burning homestead. He uttered to the David Warner character a moral statement really. Jason Statham’s latest hero subliminally answers Hoffman’s utterance in the tenacious final scene of the bold, well-made Homefront. This movie marvelously resembles Straw Dogs’s ideas, even the interesting placement of an innocent black cat.
Homefront is an action film replete with ideas about family, moral hypocrisy, bully tactics, and the dangerous causality of violence. The film may seem dumb, and at times it is limited, due to the fundamental action-movie elements overlaying the story directed by Gary Fleder (Don’t Say A Word, Runaway Jury) and experienced screenwriter Sylvester Stallone (Rocky), here redeeming himself after the abysmal Stallone-Schwarzenegger vehicle, Escape Plan.
Jason Statham’s latest hero subliminally answers Hoffman’s utterance in the tenacious final scene of the bold, well-made Homefront. This movie marvelously resembles Straw Dogs’s ideas, even the interesting placement of an innocent black cat.
And yes, Homefront is an “action movie” so Fleder/Stallone inject plenty of macho dialogue, grisly bad guys, and hardboiled textures. However, the fistfights and shootouts occur sparingly, logically when Broker has to assert himself against the fear-mongering locals. Also, Fleder cuts the action elegantly, using kinetics to articulate Broker’s robust readiness and gift for retribution.
Homefront, edited by Padraic McKinley, impressively paces out this action narrative. Fleder also understands space and has an ability to map out the way characters, often savagely, relate and respond to each other. He intercuts scenes to sustain the story’s flow and suspense. This skill is important for a film situated almost entirely in a small town of deep contrasts – from the vibrant countryside to the cold and dungy bars (a visual contrast Fleder believably conveys unlike the psuedo-dystopia of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire).
Homefront’s central character is ex-DEA undercover agent Phil Broker (Statham), who leaves Minnesota with young daughter (Izabela Vidovic) with a new identity and a golden opportunity to live a peaceful life on the pasture. The farm scenes are lustrously lit – almost artificially – to emphasize the idealized nature of Broker’s wish for a “fresh start”. It’s idealized because outside his grazing land there is a town of rednecks who aren’t excited by a world of daisies and sunshine, and ex-DEA agents. Their violent tendencies invoke Broker’s old roots.
Problems arise when Broker’s daughter beats up a schoolyard bully, and the latter’s parents come knocking. The father (Frank Grillo) isn’t strong enough to disarm Broker, so the mother (Kate Bosworth, coincidentally the costar of the Straw Dogs remake) seeks the help of her brother Gator (James Franco), a nasty, wily meth dealer who knows how to put a scare into people. He then turns to drug-runner Sheryl Mott (Winona Ryder), whose guilty conscience clouds her negotiation skills with the biker gang out for its own retribution on Broker.
Fleder/Stallone’s taut plot serves to embody the cruel, causal mechanism of violence. While Fleder lacks Peckinpah’s visual poetry, he does not divorce Stallone’s script from its moral questions.
Fleder/Stallone’s taut plot serves to embody the cruel, causal mechanism of violence. While Fleder lacks Peckinpah’s visual poetry, he does not divorce Stallone’s script from its moral questions. The film engagingly presents how characters inflict violence, then duly receive it. The collaborators punctuate this point by using children as the narrative drive – first to propel the inhumanity forward (recall the opening shot of Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch when the children torture the scorpions?) and in the end how their innocent face finally halts it. How smart.
Fleder seems fascinated by the way human beings try to control and defeat each other. Statham’s physicality is the perfect weapon against his assailants; but he plays a repressed character, a Tom Stall-type (A History of Violence) only on the right side of the law who suppresses his killer instincts to live a safe family life. Statham portrays Broker compassionately, making him not just a beat-em-up cipher.
Also, Franco is very amusing as a sinister character-actor with reptilian tattoos and a creepy rictus. Think of Alien in Spring Breakers: by comparison, Gator is more level-headed than Alien though, since at least his greed does not hinder his awareness of the charmless environment he lives in (Alien, on the other hand, was lost in all his “shit”). The actor is more fun to watch as these loony, amoral characters (he possesses the film’s best one-liner: “you got something else to say? I can smell the wood burning…”). If you ask me, he should stay away from adapting William Faulkner.
Homefront is adapted from a series of novels by Chuck Logan, a Vietnam vet who fittingly seems to be fascinated by the way violence is negotiated in America – the irreparable consequences of cruel acts. Broker is our unmistakable yet volatile hero, whose aggression comes with a moral backbone: he teaches his daughter to love thy neighbour.
Homefront boils over, and reaches its purpose, when Broker has to protect his home from uninvited guests. Another Straw Dogs flourish. After the carnage, Broker overcomes Hoffman’s character’s grief. In the end, Broker knows exactly where he lives, and he ain’t leavin’.
[notification type=”star”]83/100 ~ GREAT. Homefront is an elegant, surprisingly intelligent action parable on the moral turpitude of America. The film, if slightly harmed by derivative genre tropes, finds its footing through a tight script by Stallone, capable direction by Fleder, and the surefire performance of Jason Statham.[/notification]