Half an hour after the new action picture “Homefront” is over, its audience may forget how emotionally involving it was. Mark Isham’s gritty music and Director Gary Fleder’s eye and efficient editing have made its rural Louisiana and its equally cliché story seem important, and even dangerous.
One forgets the intensity of a movie pretty quickly, no matter how important that emotional focus may be to the immediate effect of the picture. What viewers will remember about “Homefront” is either how awful the story is or how terrific the acting is. Personally, I’ll remember how strange it seems that such a hack movie script can have prompted some good actors to go all out.
The movie is about a Drug Enforcement agent named Broker and played by the always attractive Jason Statham. The film’s pre-titles incident has Broker directing a squad of his colleagues to a New Orleans drug lab where methamphetamine is made.
The drug distributors are members of the Outcast motorcycle gang, which is run by an old felon and his younger son. Once the raid takes place, Broker stops the father and son from escaping and the son dies, suicide by cop.
Two years later Broker and his ten-year-old daughter are living in his late wife’s family home up the river road. The daughter has to bloody a school-yard bully. The bully’s mother is a vindictive waif of a tweaker named Cassie, played with verve by Cate Bosworth. Her husband doesn’t have it in him to get revenge for her.
So she turns to her brother, a creepy meth-maker played by James Franco doing a less comic version of his celebrated character from “Spring Breakers.” His work in “Homefront” is the most impressive Franco has done to my knowledge. Same with Bosworth, whose Cassie changes her mind about Broker when his daughter invites the bully to her birthday party.
But by then Franco’s “Gator” character has already cased Broker’s house and has sent a couple of thugs to try to scare him. The latter doesn’t work. But when he sneaks around in the house, Gator discovers that Broker is a former federal undercover agent and someone the Outcasts are looking for.
So Gator calls in a Shreveport hooker played by Winona Ryder, who also has a good turn here. Gator’s idea is that the bar maid can offer to trade information about Broker’s location to the Outcasts in return for a distribution deal for local meth. So the motorcyclist drug dealers head out the river road to Broker’s farm, and only the assistance of a local carpenter and a tip-off from an old pal make it possible for our hero to get ready for the attack on his farm by seven armed men.
Naturally Broker’s daughter is kidnapped. And naturally the cynical screenplay—by Sylvester Stallone, based on a novel by Chuck Logan—brings all the main characters together for the climax out at Gator’s boat garage. And naturally there’s a big and totally unnecessary explosion at the end, set up by Broker for reasons one can’t imagine.
Oh, its a worn-out, predictable story. And it turns out that Fleder, despite his other strengths, won’t go to the trouble to film the action scenes from far enough away that one has any notion what is going on during them.
Never mind all that. “Homefront” has good characters in it, characters made by hard work and with imagination. Franco’s Gator is always snacking on ripple potato chips, one at a time. He is complicated enough to care about his drug addict sister, and she is complicated enough to actually change and grow as the events proceed.
Even some of the minor characters are kind of interesting. Broker’s local ally has told him that the Sheriff, who Cassie and Gator call “Keith,” is in cahoots with the drug maker. Later this character, played by journeyman Clancy Brown, dumps into the street a cup of whiskey that Gator has given him while trying to establish an alibi for the time of the attack on the farm. The liquid’s disposal is a deft move.
Too bad the story’s such a cliché. Otherwise the effective acting and tone of “Homefront” would have made it a dandy crime film.