Jason Statham has been plugging away at playing the cinematic hardman in a series of taut if unchallenging action films (like this year’s Parker) for the best part of the last decade, and by this point largely exists in a separate cinematic universe where he is a major star. He may never trouble any of the backslapping industry awards for achievements in acting, but in his genre he’s a far more notable figure than, say, James Franco, which is why it’s rather a surprise to see Franco here. Then again, Franco has a notable sideline in taking roles for what I can only call the WTF value, so perhaps I’m overstating my case. At any account, Statham is the real draw and if the pleasures of this retrogressive B-flick are firmly in the right-wing vigilante-justice side of the ledger — Statham’s former undercover cop Phil flees the big city with his daughter after a big showdown with a gang leader to lead a quiet life by the Louisiana bayous, but trouble predictably follows him — it’s still enjoyable for what it is.
I think a lot of the appeal of this kind of film really comes down to how you feel about the stars. Personally, I enjoy Statham and I even feel he’s starting to develop as an actor — there are some quiet early scenes with his daughter where he is pretty effective at concisely hinting at an emotional backstory for his character Phil Broker, and he can certainly come across as likeable on-screen (even if the romance subplot is expectedly underdeveloped, his short scenes with his daughter’s teacher don’t stretch credulity too far). However, most of the film relies on his ability to throw bad guys around, and that’s clearly where his forte lies. Elsewhere the acting is reliable, though Franco’s meth-producer “Gator” is difficult to believe as a dangerous bad guy and by the film’s later stages his initial show of menace has been reliably undercut by a series of real action film heavies (the tattooed biker gang from whom Statham is on the run). The female lead is essentially Phil’s 10-year-old daughter, Maddy (Izabela Vidovic), who gets some playground confrontations with a school bully early on (whose own very brief subplot is rather affecting), but is believably imperilled later (so, no Kick Ass-style action heroics for her). Elsewhere other female characters start strongly (Kate Bosworth’s meth-addicted Cassie) but are also quickly sidelined; Winona Ryder’s supporting role is introduced into the film suddenly and without much fanfare, though one can’t be sure if her overacting is down to a poor script (she takes the brunt of the bad guys’ verbal abuse) or the fact that she plays a meth-addled tweaker.
For me, the real weakness is in Gary Fleder’s direction, and specifically in the editing of the fight scenes, which need to be at the heart of an action thriller. Unfortunately, they pass in an incoherent blur of quick cuts and frenetic movement, making quite what’s happening difficult to discern (beyond one’s gut feeling that Statham’s ex-cop probably has the upper-hand). Still, the script by Sylvester Stallone is pretty decent, though that appearance by a threatening biker gang smacks of retro throwback. Elsewhere it hints at the kind of tight-knit small-town internecine feuding that’s been better and more threateningly conveyed in slow-burning rural dramas like Winter’s Bone (2010) — Statham’s outsider status and certain signifiers of his comfier middle-class status (big old house, brand-new pick-up truck) are frequently referenced by his poor, rural Louisiana antagonists. That said, Theo van de Sande’s solid cinematography keeps it all big and shiny, with swooping helicopter shots to kick things off and golden light filtering across the bayous — threatening darkness and shadows are generally kept to a minimum.
I enjoyed Homefront, though. With a British lead in Statham (whose accent is faltering to say the least, and makes one wish he’d just stuck with the English accent for the whole thing), the gung-ho patriotism is kept to a minimum, whatever may be implied by the title and the American flag colours on the posters. Even the sentimentality is generally reined in, and what we’re left with is a fairly taut throwback of an action movie that delivers on everything it needs to. You should know in advance whether you want to watch it, but I’m sure it’ll keep plenty of home video viewers perfectly happy.
Director Gary Fleder; Writer Sylvester Stallone (based on the novel by Chuck Logan); Cinematographer Theo van de Sande; Starring Jason Statham, James Franco, Izabela Vidovic, Winona Ryder; Length 100 minutes.
Seen at Cineworld Wood Green, London, Monday 9 December 2013.