I can’t remember the last Jason Statham-led movie I saw that had the lead (1) smiling, (2) being a father, and (3) only getting a handful of action scenes. Homefront, which interestingly enough has been written by Sylvester Stallone and was at one time going to be a Rambo sequel, is all of this. Sure, many of the Statham formula points are here — whether they were included before or after he was cast is something we’ll never learn — but this is a more dramatic film than you’d generally expect given the casting.
Statham plays ex-DEA agent Phil Broker, who has moved to Louisiana after his wife passed away. He has a daughter, Maddy (Izabela Vidovic), and he does odd jobs to pass the time and pay the bills, although he doesn’t ever seem to be hurting for money. In an early scene, Maddy beats up the school bully. Later at the school, the bully’s father tries to cheap-shot Phil, only to be knocked on his behind. This is a family you don’t mess with, we learn, so that’s exactly what the small town — as a collective, it almost feels like — decides to do.
The bully’s mother, Cassie (Kate Bosworth), asks her meth-cooking brother, Gator (James Franco), to scare the Broker household. A stuffed rabbit is ripped up, a cat is kidnapped, and a tire is slashed. It doesn’t stop there, and before the film ends a miniature home invasion will be staged, Maddy will be kidnapped, we’ll have a car chase, a couple of shootouts, and what was initially interested more in the feuds and lifestyle of small town residents — and meth-addicts — will have degenerated into what you’d expect from a Jason Statham movie.
What’s I find fascinating about Homefront is how much better it works as a crime drama than as an action-thriller. The build-up and exploration of this town, its residents and the politics by which they’re governed is far more enjoyable to watch than Jason Statham beating guys up. For the first hour or so, there are only a couple of small action scene — and they’re just fist fights, save for the opening action scene which is like the obligatory kill in a slasher movie, even if it does wind up mattering plot-wise later on. It doesn’t get explosive until the last half hour.
This slower beginning gives us time to get to know these characters. Maddy and her father share a few early scenes and you can actually by Statham as a caring dad. I was shocked, too. The supporting cast isn’t as cut-and-dry as they initially appear. While there aren’t any big surprises, there are a couple of character turns that at least partially redeem previously bad characters, or potentially condemn good ones. There’s more depth to the cast than you’d expect.
So, we get to be invested, at least somewhat, in these characters, and then we get to see them shoot it out in the finale. That’s about it. Apart from the moderate amount of commentary on this type of town that you’ve already seen … in every movie about small towns that happen to have a drug dealer, there isn’t a whole lot of depth to Homefront. It all works kind of the way that crackers and cheese works. It’s tasty and you can have it for a long time before it gets tiresome, but there’s nothing more to it than the cracker and the piece of cheese.
And, yes, you’ve seen a lot of this movie before. You’ve seen families tormented by other people for no reason, you’ve seen drug dealers go a little bit loopy, and you’ve seen the Sons of Anarchy show up to shoot up a house owned by a character being played by Jason Statham. Okay, maybe you haven’t seen the last one, but you have seen gangs show up at a house only to be shown who truly is the toughest guy in the room.
Homefront is wonderfully cast. Jason Statham could play this role in his sleep if it was just a “beat up everyone” movie, but with its slow build and the amount of actual dramatic acting he has to do, I think we can call this “stretching” for him. James Franco gets to ham it up as the main villain. While he’s not quite as insane as Spring Breakers‘ Alien, he’s playing on a similar plane here and he does a fine job at it.
When it comes to the women, the most surprising performance comes from Kate Bosworth. She doesn’t get roles like this one, but her methed-out character is a lot of fun. Her character arc is also the most interesting of everyone, and she doesn’t use the meth addiction as a crutch to generate sympathy or disdain; it’s simply an element of her character. Izabela Vidovic plays the too-smart-and-mature-to-be-real movie kid well, Winona Ryder is … there as the girlfriend to the Franco character, and Rachelle Lefevre is also just sort of there, playing a semi-love interest for Statham but really not doing a whole lot.
Homefront could have been another Jason-Statham-beats-everyone-up movie, but its slow build and surprisingly layered characters elevates it slightly above that. In fact, the pure action the concludes the film is actually the least entertaining part about it. All of the build-up and character and town exploration is far more worth our time. A strong location and good characters makes Homefront an exciting movie.