With summer movies safely tucked away, it’s the time of year where films set out to teach us something or touch our hearts on the way to next year’s Oscars. No, I don’t mean Creature, although there was touching in some parts of that movie. In Puncture, brothers and co-directors Mark and Adam Kassen introduce Chris Evans to a villain even scarier than the Red Skull…big pharma.
Fresh from battling the aforementioned super-villain, Chris Evans trades in his Captain America costume for lawyer’s garb complete with goofy ties and suspenders (hey, it was the 90s) in this drama based on a true story. Mike Weiss (Chris Evans) is the talented partner of a Houston personal injury firm along with his partner and longtime friend Paul Danziger (co-director Mark Kassen). Weiss is the mercurial, erratic genius to Danzinger’s calm voice of reason. Their fledgling practice faces a major dilemma when it’s approached by a young nurse, Vicky (Vinessa Shaw). While trying to restrain a drug addict, Vicky was pricked by a needle and infected with AIDS.
Surprisingly, the single mother of two isn’t after a huge payday, but instead wants institutional change to protect this from happening to her fellow medical professionals in the form of a disposable, retractable syringe. When they approach the inventor Jeffrey Dancort (Marshall Bell) about the device, he tells them of the difficulty he’s had in getting them into hospitals. While the hospital chiefs don’t dispute the effectiveness of the device, they reject his pleas as part of a price fixing conspiracy by large corporations called GPOs, (Group Purchaseing Organizations) who are intent on maintaining the status quo. Danziger reluctantly joins Weiss in taking on the battle of million dollar lawyers representing a multi-billion dollar industry. Fearing they may have bitten off more than they can chew, Danziger tries to get Weiss to hand it off to a larger firm or to quickly settle, but to no avail. Meanwhile, Weiss has to face other enemies, notably hookers and drugs. A lot of drugs. From marijuana to crack, he is as addicted to them as he is to the truth. His addiction threatens to destroy not only the case, but the duo’s personal lives as well.
So much focus is on Evans upcoming costumed role in 2012’s upcoming Avengers that it would be a shame if this performance was overlooked. He channels his inner Lincoln Lawyer but takes it a gritty step further. His functional junkie almost takes on a Rain Man quality as he is able to quote legal chapter and verse while scoring his next fix. He’s charming one minute and painfully desperate the next. Fighting a two pronged battle against his drug habit and his law partner without going overboard with the character is why Evans may achieve the critical success to match the box office that he gets elsewhere.
“Puncture” only suffers from a moment or two of typical Hollywood shmaltz when, for instance, a couple characters recite “Sometimes the brightest light comes from the darkest places” as a way of driving an already driven Weiss. That’s easily forgiven when you factor in the care that was taken not to let too much artistic license on either side of the camera get in the way of the facts of the case or of the story.
The sons of health care professionals themselves, the Kassens not only worked with the real life Danziger for the story, but also nurses and others affected by or involved in the case to give it an extra layer of authenticity. Puncture may have a very flawed hero at it’s core, but you’ll cheer for him while he fights real life bad guys as a different kind of Avenger.
Puncture: MPAA Rated R for drug use, sexual references, language and some nudity. In select theaters.