While perfectly capable of being enjoyable on a brainless action movie level, Jason Statham’s latest badass extravaganza Homefront also comes with a surprising amount of depth and nuance for those willing to look beyond the bone crunching fights and backwoods cat and mouse games. Thanks to some good direction from underrated genre worker Gary Fleder, a sharp script with layered characters courtesy of Sylvester Stallone, and some sly performances from a well utilized cast, it goes beyond just being a one of those films that Statham usually gets hired for because his charisma and physical abilities can make it watchable. Next to Roger Donaldson’s criminally underrated heist flick The Bank Job, it’s Statham’s best all around film.
Following the takedown of a biker gang that goes horribly wrong (resulting in the death of a crime boss’ son) and the loss of his wife to illness, DEA agent Phil Broker (Statham) moves to the small town of Rayville, Louisiana with his daughter (Izabela Vidovic). Intent on living a simpler life, Broker gets pulled into a dangerous chain reaction when his young ward fights back against a kid that was bullying her, severely pissing off the kid’s drug addled mother (Kate Bosworth) who demands satisfaction. Because her own husband is too chicken to do anything about the situation, mommy turns to her big shot brother, meth cooker Gator Bodine (James Franco), to scare Broker out of town. When Gator and his girlfriend (Winona Ryder) discover Broker’s past, the dealer sees an opportunity to sell the former fed out to the biker family that’s still seeking revenge. It’s a proposition that will not go well for either man involved.
Adapted from Chuck Logan’s novel, Homefront certainly holds a ton of B-movie charm within its old school “protecting the family and homestead” plot line, but Fleder and Stallone take the material at face value and decide to add a bit more weight that can sometimes get lost in translation from page to screen. None of the inhabitants of Rayville are sketches or clichés. They certainly have some cheesy one liners and crowd pleasing moments where one person gets to intimidate their rivals, but these are people with their own specific grievances coming together as a result of a bad situation.
Broker is proud of his daughter standing up for herself, and he initially refuses to apologize for her laying the smack down on a punk kid. The assaulted child’s mother overreacts accordingly, but really all she wants to make it all go away is an apology. When she turns to her not-really-all-that-menacing-in-real-life-brother, he actually comes across as put upon; like he doesn’t want to get involved and he’s actually growing weary of having to fight his sister’s battles for her. His attitude only changes once Broker’s past is revealed, then becoming an opportunistic businessman who has no clue how deep of a shitstorm he’s getting into. Gator’s girlfriend is forced into being a contact and point man for him, since she used to be a part of the world he wants to make a deal with, and she’s appropriately hesitant and moderately terrified. Aside from the mostly faceless biker hordes that make up the true villains of the film, these are characters with unique concerns and different views of the directions they want their lives to be headed in. Even the town’s beleaguered sheriff (genre vet and always welcome sight Clancy Brown) doesn’t act merely as a red herring or deus ex machina. He’s just a guy trying to do his job while thinking under his breath that everyone around him is kind of a jerk.
It’s probably the best behind the scenes work that Stallone has put his name to in quite some time, and he graciously strikes a nice balance for the cast and crew to play with between the tough guy B-movie tropes and creating a rich environment for everyone to work within. And aside from some occasionally dicey editing and a few overly pastoral looking shots that made me fear the actors would choke on all the dandelion dander floating through the shot, Fleder asserts himself accordingly to the material. Fleder lets his cast have some fun with their roles, and has seemingly structured to film to play to their individual strengths as actors. He even makes an extended fight sequence built around Broker actually trying to retrieve his kidnapped cat feel exciting and necessary instead of silly and tacked on.
Statham isn’t often working with filmmakers and material that allow him to showcase some of his best strengths as an actor. When he’s at his best, Statham conveys a sense of thoughtfulness and intelligence that sometimes unfortunately gets left in the background. That’s not the case here. With a great amount of support behind him from the script, direction, and supporting cast, he’s allowed to show a much fuller range as a performer. He also shows a generosity when working with others, often allowing his co-stars ample chance to shine if he knows they are more important to the effectiveness of a given scene. It’s the kind of work that most action movie stars seem to have forgotten how to do and something that needs to make a return for the long term viability of the genre.
Franco brings his A-game again this time out, and while his drug dealer here doesn’t come close to the dizzyingly batshit heights his pusher in Spring Breakers reached earlier this year, it’s nice to see him taking the role seriously and without a hint of ironic detachment. Bosworth never gets to play roles this unglamorous, but she also has one of the most interesting character arcs in the film and never plays this woman’s substance abuse issues for too much added pathos that would have no bearing on the story itself. Ryder also hasn’t been given something she could create a unique performance from in a while, either. She’s someone who’s constantly afraid, who after a while will let her own fear get the better of her, leading to some stupid decisions that she regrets but still can’t fully reason out.
But most importantly, Homefront is just a damned good time at the movies where a good guy gets to kick the snot out of a bunch of bad dudes that want to harm him. That’s probably all that would have mattered to begin with, but it’s nice to see that everyone involved were able to go the extra mile to deliver something better than just disposable entertainment.