"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." The famous quote, long attributed to Plato but more recently thought to have come from Scottish author Ian MacLaren, may not be one you might readily associate with an action movie, but on the evidence of Homefront it's easy to imagine screenwriter Sylvester Stallone having it pinned above his writing desk.
Sold to us as yet another moronic Jason Statham six pack and jerky romp, Homefront may reference trash classics like Roadhouse and Gator through its character names but it's as a film it has more in common with the contemplative westerns of Henry Hathaway. It's the best revisionist action movie since George Armitage's great 1976 Vigilante Force.
Stallone's script is more concerned with the broken spirit of recession era America than the broken bones of its villains. Starting off in familiar territory (seemingly crooked sheriff, white trash villains, hero with a violent past he's trying to leave behind), the turning point comes when Broker confronts Hester's apparently villainous redneck about a break in at his house. Hester denies any knowledge, his face exuding the fear of a man struggling to raise a family in 2013 America, and we believe him. Suddenly the rug has been pulled out from under us. This is a film that isn't going to make for easy viewing. The bullying kid, whose bloodied nose we initially cheered, turns out to be a special needs child. Those other five cans may not go down so easily.
Stallone and director Gary Fleder expose the prejudice toward working class rural white characters that American film-makers have shamefully ingrained in us over the past half a century. When we meet the de-glammed Bosworth and her grease-stained hubby Hester, we immediately mark them as the movie's villains but, like most working class Americans today, they're simply pawns in a game run by more powerful forces. Several times Fleder's camera pans away from the adult hysteria to the pained faces of his character's children. It's testament to Stallone and Fleder that this doesn't come off as unintentionally hilarious, like the cutaways to victims' families in Austin Powers.
When Stallone's name appeared as screenwriter (adapting Chuck Logan's novel), several chortles could be heard in the theater. It's easy, of course, to forget this is the writer who gave us Rocky and skillfully adapted David Morell's First Blood for the screen. Here he gives us a father and daughter relationship between Statham and Vidovic that's as warm and likable as Rocky and Adrienne, but there's also the sense that Bosworth and Hester's struggling parents represent Rocky and Adrienne if things hadn't gone so well for the iconic couple.
Stallone finished penning his script just before the death of his son, Sage, and unlike Rocky Balboa, which pinned the blame for its failed father/son dynamic on its protagonist's son, here it's the father character who comes to realize he may have to be the one to change.
The film's biggest stumbling block is its biggest selling point: Statham. This is a truly American movie and Statham's cockney drawl constantly snaps you out of the situation. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson would have been ideal for this part, having showed us in recent years he's both an intimidating presence and a credible actor.
In a year filled with the cruel collateral damage of garbage like Man of Steel and Fast & Furious 6, where "little people" are merely disposable props to be destroyed by larger than life "heroes", Homefront is an important dog-ear in the pages of the maligned action movie.
(Review by Eric Hillis)