Sunday, January 24, 2021


Some movie villains are gleefully evil. Take, for example, the Bond villain played by Jonathan Pryce in the Pierce Brosnan film Tomorrow Never Dies, who upon hearing a premature report of James Bond's death, said, "Delicious." Or take the Joker, played by just about anyone who ever played the Joker in a film, TV show or animated program, who giggles while plotting acts of grand larceny and mass murder. On the other hand, there's a type of movie villain who acts with a chilling lack of emotion, like the killer played by Javier Bardem in the Coen Bros. movie No Country for Old Men – the filmic epitome of a sadist whose acts of insane cruelty are unchecked by even the tiniest qualm of empathy with his fellow human beings. But in the 2013 movie Homefront, written by Sylvester Stallone, we are presented with several villainous characters, each of whom crosses a line that they know is there, and that they ordinarily wouldn't cross; but cross it they do, when they are pushed hard enough, when they lose control.

I want to sing the praises of these characters in Homefront, who are (for movie villains) surprisingly human and troubled by what they've gotten themselves into. You see the look in their eyes when they reach the tipping point into heinous acts, and you feel bad for them because you know what got them there. We see the fat, cowardly schoolyard bully played by young Austin Craig pick on a little girl, then get his nose bloodied because he picked on the wrong little girl, then be humiliated by his parents' bad behavior when they blame said girl and her father (Jason Statham) for the whole incident. But you learn to understand what made him that way when you see him overhearing his mom (played by Kate Bosworth) trying to score some meth off her drug-dealing brother Gator (James Franco), and when you see tears running down the kid's face, you forgive him because you understand the pain he's in. When the boy's father, played by Marcus Hester, stands up to Franco and begs him to stop feeding his wife's habit, you feel more respect for him than at any previous point in his cowardly, henpecked-into-mischief character arc. Bosworth, whose addiction-fueled rage sets off hideous events that continue to unfold even after she's cooled down, ends up taking a bullet in the gut while trying to save the girl from her brother.

Franco's female accomplice, played by an unrecognizable Winona Ryder, gets dragged into the situation against her will and you can see she's scared of the direction things are going; when she seizes the opportunity to make off with Statham's daughter, you're not entirely sure – hell, I don't think she's sure – whether she's trying to save the girl or kidnap her; the only thing that's clear is that things get out of her control pretty much right away. And finally, there's Franco himself, the meth cooker who protects his town from other meth cookers (all right, so he's not exactly doing it as a public service). When he recognizes that the guy his sister is all riled at is the ex-undercover cop responsible for the death of the son of a powerful motorcycle gangster who's behind bars because of him (Statham that is), Franco schemes to trade knowledge of Statham's location for permission to distribute his meth. Obviously, he's not averse to getting a couple of good people killed; but even Ryder tells him, when he reaches his gun-waving, wild-eyed tipping point, that he's never been a killer and he still has a chance to back down.

Contrary to all the canons of action movie tradition, none of these villains die in this movie. The one who comes closest to it, does so because Statham himself is pushed right up to that line, and pulls himself back – or rather, the look in his daughter's eyes pulls him back. To be sure, some of the villains do die; but they're motorcycle gang baddies, the type of people who scare Ryder and Franco #$%&less and were going to do what they were going to do, regardless of morality or common feeling with their fellow man. They're villains of type 2 (only more reckless than Anton Chigurh, so that Statham is able to use their momentum to take them down). You don't feel anything for them except discomfort as they approach their target, because you know only one thing can stop them and that's just the next thing less nasty than not stopping them.

Also in the movie are Clancy Brown (of The Shawshank Redemption) as the sheriff, Omar Benson Miller (Shall We Dance) as Statham's gentle hired man who does for one of the really bad guys, Rachelle Lefevre (who was Channing Tatum's ex in White House Down) as a nice school psychologist for whom a little girl has romantic hopes on behalf of her widowed father; Frank Grillo (The Kill Point) as the leader of the gang that tries to get Statham and his daughter for their jailed boss; Chuck Zito (Sons of Anarchy) as said boss; and up and coming TV actress Izabela Vidovic as the girl who shows unusual strength of character for a child being victimized to hurt her father in an action movie. For example, there's one emotionally touching scene where she tells her dad that she thinks her mother (in heaven or whatever) worries about him and wants him to be happy. And later, she stays in cell phone contact with the good guys while being kidnapped, which is pretty good thinking for a terrified child, and actually wounds her abductor. Good girl!

Three Scenes That Made It For Me: (1) When Franco watches his meth lab explode, the spark of life goes right out of his eyes. It's the moment that really makes my thesis in this review. Also, it's darn good acting. (2) Franco, intentionally alibiing up during the bad guys' raid on Statham's place, walks right up to the sheriff and pours whiskey into his coffee cup. The sheriff smiles, thanks him, and as soon as Franco walks away, dumps the mug out on the street. (3) Statham smiles contentedly while driving his daughter to school. Seriously, why doesn't the film industry let this man smile on film more often? And you thought the top three were going to be fight scenes in which he swiftly disables his opponents, and not always temporarily; they were on the short list, of course, but that kind of thing comes cheaply with the price of seeing a Jason Statham flick, or anything with Stallone's name on it. What's really cool to see is people with hearts, who think about and have to live with the consequences of their actions. That's a strength of this movie.

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