Starring: Jason Statham, James Franco, Winona Ryder & Kate Bosworth
Directed by: Gary Fleder
Distributed by: Lionsgate Films
Release Date: December 2013
Running Time: 100 mins
Synopsis: Following the death of his wife, former drug enforcement officer Phil Broker moves to a quiet town with his young daughter, hoping to give her a better life. However, their peaceful existence is short-lived when Broker learns of the violence and dodgy dealings corrupting the town at the hands of local drug boss Gator Bodine. Broker soon finds himself fighting to protect both his daughter and the town.
Adapted from the novel of the same name by Chuck Logan, Homefront was a screenplay written by Sylvester Stallone for himself to star in but he ultimately passed it onto his The Expendables co-star Jason Statham instead. Statham has been typically associated with high-octane, frenetic action-thrillers such as Crank, The Transporter and The Mechanic, but with Homefront, he adopts a much slower pace as retired DEA agent Phil Broker, as he attempts to lie low with his daughter in the town that his dead wife grew up in. With plenty of enemies in his rear-view mirror after his time undercover, Broker attempts to keep a low-profile in the Louisiana town, but a fight between his tomboy daughter and the school bully begins a chain of events that unravel his former identity.
Much of the film hinges on Statham’s attempts to keep his lid on his past as he gets embroiled in the realities of Deep South family feuds and deadly grudges. There is almost a Shakespearean quality to the escalation of events as Broker’s daughter Maddie inadvertently sets into motion the events of the movie when she beats up the school bully. This leads to her parents getting involved, then the local law enforcement, then the local drug-dealer, until Broker reappears on the radar of his former enemies from his DEA days. The only issue is that this chain of events takes up the majority of the film and feels predictable and inevitable from the outset and I kept thinking that if Statham ate a bit of humble pie earlier in the film, he could have prevented the whole thing from happening.
Jason Statham plays the role almost identically to any other film he has been in, mumbling his way through the dialogue to the point where I had to turn the sound up just to catch what he said. He has a very dry sense of humour, but lacks any real sense of charisma or charm. The scenes between him and his daughter are okay, but he just appears disinterested and almost resigned to his fate. James Franco injects a bit more life into proceedings as the main antagonist, although he is resigned to looking creepy and having awkwardly gratuitous sex scenes with Winona Ryder than posing any real physical threat to Statham. However, Franco does creepy extremely well and there is an unpredictability to his behaviour that livens up the film when he is on-screen. Equally, Kate Bosworth shines as his drug-addicted sister who is the catalyst behind his involvement and the subsequent escalation of threats and violence. She managed to turn from an annoying crack head to an almost sympathetic character throughout the film, and deserved some more time to flesh out her role.
The explosive action sequence at the top of the film serves to satisfy the adrenaline junkies before the film embarks on a slower pace that feels more like a thriller than an action movie. Director Gary Fleder manages to capture the natural distrust of strangers prominent in the Deep South of America and leverages that unease of not belonging. Perhaps with a different actor – one with less action movie credits to his name – the film would have maintained its tension better, but Statham’s cool demeanor and his ability to ‘handle himself’ make him more than a match for the residents of his town. It is only when the bikers appear with their heavy weaponry and almost military-esque movements that it feels like Broker might be at risk. It would have been interesting to see what the film would have been like with a current-day Stallone in the role, although I guess it would have been a bit too distracting to see a sixty-something man with an eight-year old daughter.
Another curious element of Homefront is the way the film has been marketed in different countries. The DVD and Blu-Ray releases of the film in America feature the US flag emblazoned on the back of Statham’s jacket, but other versions of the film lack this patriotic Photoshop flourish. Even the name Homefront implies some kind of American pride, but it doesn’t really connect with the subject matter at all – aside from the sequence where Statham (with a British accent) protects his home against drug-dealing American bikers. Not quite what the name Homefront conjures up when you hear it – I was expecting something more military-focused, with an emphasis on protecting land against outsiders. However, Statham is the outsider here – both in terms of his nationality (a British actor in America) and the character’s relocation from the city to a small town in Louisiana.
The film itself isn’t necessarily good or bad, it just exists. There’s no real standout action sequences that linger in the mind, although the brief confrontation at the gas pump is arguably the film’s highlight. Statham doesn’t command the same screen presence as his Hobbs & Shaw co-star, The Rock, and having watched this film after seeing Skyscraper the previous week, it certainly shows. There are some nice performances from Franco and Bosworth, but the film lacks any real spark to distinguish itself from any of the other mid-budget action movies of the past decade. If you have an interest to see Jason Statham kicking ass, I’d recommend one of his more fluid and energetic action movies like Crank or The Transporter. If you want to see a slower-paced thriller that doesn’t quite thrill, then Homefront will scratch that rather specific itch for you.