DVD Review - Puncture

Mark Kassen (left) and
Chris Evans in "Puncture"
Last year, when Sidney Lumet died, I did a retrospective of his work and I watched and reviewed The Verdict (1982). The film starred Paul Newman as a lawyer with a substance abuse problem, namely alcohol. Newman's character gets a medical malpractice suit, which semi-evolves into a bigger social issue and tests the metal of him as a man. Essentially, that's what filmmakers and brothers Adam and Mark Kassen have crafted here. Chris Evans, before becoming Captain America: The First Avenger, turned in his best performance as Michael David Weiss, the real-life lawyer in Texas who helped to bring an antitrust case against a company supplying needles for hospitals.

Like Newman's character of Frank Galvin, Evans' character of Mike Weiss has a substance abuse problem, though Weiss' problem is a bit harder. Weiss is a cocaine addict who almost on a daily basis sneaks into the bathroom to snort white powder up his nose. Like Galvin, Weiss is pulled into a medical malpractice case, though Weiss' case is a bit more insidious. Weiss' case starts with a nurse who gets infected with AIDS after a needle-stick accident.

This leads Weiss to an inventor named Jeffrey Dancort who has a patent on syringes that would prevent those accidents. He goes to Weiss because there's a company that is using illegal, monopolistic tactics to stop his patented syringes from ever reaching the market. Unlike Galvin, Weiss' case touches upon levels and dynamics reached by Erin Brockovich (2000) and The Insider (1999), namely corporate and political corruption.

This film works in the shadow of those movies and thanks to Evans' performance had the potential to stand on its own. Evans' work here is in fact his greatest work to date and as other critics have said, this movie should be noted simply for that. As an actor, Evans steps it up here, and he is a bonafide star. He's handsome. He's well-built. He seems extremely emotionally and physically connected to his character, and, as the audience, Evans compels you to be similarly connected, but you can't. Clearly, the filmmakers want you to do so. Clearly, they want this to be Weiss' story and they want Evans to helm that story, but he shouldn't.

This isn't because Evans isn't capable. Evans is very capable. Evans is a movie star, or if he isn't, his performance here proves that he's on his way. That being said, his character of Weiss shouldn't be the center of this story. Unlike Galvin, Weiss isn't totally alone. He has a law partner named Paul Danziger, played by Mark Kassen, the co-director of this film.

By the end of this movie, it was apparent that Kassen's character should have been the center of this story. Kassen should have been the star. Either Kassen and his brother loved Weiss too much or loved Evans too much not to have everything revolve around him, but doing so detracts from this movie standing out of the shadow of those aforementioned legal dramas.

Considering where this movie concludes, it seemed obvious that more favor should have been given to Kassen's character of Danziger. The elements are there to have really made Danziger the core here, but the filmmakers keep a distance. Instead, it becomes more about Weiss' drug addiction, which would have been fine, if they could have connected it to the fact that his case was all about needles. Besides snorting cocaine, we see Weiss trying to shoot up with needles. The Kassen brothers make the point subtly, but it's not enough to truly bridge the gap.

Obviously, the drug angle is sexier. Obviously, seeing Evans' half-naked, buff body with drugs and hookers and a pet alligator around him is sexier. Just seeing Evans in a loose-fitting shirt and suspenders is sexier, but again this shouldn't be his story. It's Kassen as Danziger that does all the real work in the case and apparently at the firm. It's Kassen as Danziger that has to make the choice to change his mind about the case.

Both Kassen and Evans have a fantastic scene where Danziger and Weiss argue about whether to continue fighting even if it means bankruptcy or if they should sell out and take a settlement that would undermine Dancort, their client, but solve their immediate financial problems. Weiss' position is already where the movie is trying to go, so Weiss really has no growth or change to make. He's essentially done. It's Danziger that needs convincing. Yet, the movie spends wasted time trying to convince Weiss of something he already believes.

A whistleblower shows Weiss a video from Africa, which underscores why he should continue fighting when it's Danziger who should have been shown that video. It's Danziger who should have visited the infected nurse. Yet, at the movie's conclusion, we're supposed to buy that Danziger makes a miraculous turn around without enough to help us take the jump.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed Evans in this. I even enjoyed Kassen as well. Great supporting performances from Marshall Bell who played Dancort and Brett Cullen who played Nathaniel Price, the opposing attorney as well as others in the cast do lend this as a solid film.

Four Stars out of Five.
Rated R for drug use, language and some nudity.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 40 mins.


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