by Nick Newman
While most audiences are looking forward to Chris Evans this summer as a Nazi-fighting superhero in Captain America: The First Avenger, there’s another film that may slip under the radar. Puncture tells the true story of Mike Weiss (Evans), a young Houston lawyer who seems dedicated to his profession and the clients he works for. There’s a catch though: he’s a drug addict with a seedy lifestyle.
The combination of his ethics when it comes to doing his job and Evans’ charisma make him surprisingly likable. But things get much more serious when he decides to take on the case of an ER nurse (Vinessa Shaw) who contracted HIV three years prior when she unsuccessfully attempted to give a shaking patient an injection. She’s been given worker’s compensation for this horrible accident, but her lawsuit has to do with the medical supplies groups’ refusal to purchase new, safer syringes invented by her friend, Jeffrey Dancort (Marshall Bell).
At first, him and his law partner, Paul Danzinger (co-director Mark Kassen), wonder why the companies don’t simply use these safer devices that would prevent 800,000 accidents per year. But they soon uncover an industry that is run by the wealthy who put dollars ahead of saved lives.
Though they fight for what’s absolutely the right thing, they have little support due to the financial influence the larger corporations wield. The movie effectively shows the painfully meticulous steps that need to be taken by the two lawyers representing Dancort in order to establish this as a legitimate case. As the film goes on, one roots for them to keep making that extra step which will hopefully place these syringes in every hospital in America. A slimy executive (Brett Cullen) defending the big businesses acts as a human representation of their biggest obstacle: the man with the money often comes out on top.
This is a story that we’ve seen before (Erin Brokovich, for example), but we rarely – if ever – get a crusader for the greater good that’s as flawed as Weiss. The commitment he has for his profession is very much real, but drugs often put the case and his career in jeopardy. We get some of the broader strokes of how it affects him: he’s late for a meeting, his wife leaves him, and there’s the risk of being caught by the police.
But it’s the finer details that drive home how dangerous his addiction can get. While Evans is in good physical condition, he always has a haggard, sick look in his face, and getting caught doing drugs by a Senator almost gets him off the case. This adds an extra conflict to everything, and gives the movie a more personal edge that it may have otherwise lacked.
Directors Adam and Mark Kassen both display incredible skill making their feature directing debut. Much of the work done with focus and shot placement/composition would be impressive for those making their fifth movie, let alone first. Unfortunately, not every choice made by the duo works. There’s the occasional stylistic flourish, such as shots that try to emulate his drug-induced state, or music choice that feels too obvious. These feel like mistakes that new directors are bound to make and gives them room for improvement with future features.
And that sums up Puncture as a whole: the problems here are noticeable, but much of the film impresses to the point where those flaws are an undercurrent in the lean tale. I’m glad that a true, inspiring story such as this one didn’t get a movie adaptation that glossed over the main hero’s flaws. Due to both Evans’ charismatic performance and confident direction from the Kassens, our lead remains an endearing human being, keeping a vital link with the audience.