Saturday, September 10, 2011
Chris Evans goes from 'Captain America' to junkie lawyer
There have been some memorable indictments in film prose — where the system or a powerful elite is brought down by a little guy or ordinary folk coming together — both in the narrative and documentary format.
Tracing it back, Fritz Lang’s “Fury” in 1936 is a searing exposé of small town mob violence, with Spencer Tracy playing an innocent man who seeks revenge after narrowly escaping a lynching.
Then, there’s Oscar-winning actors Al Pacino and Russell Crowe, serving up noteworthy performances decades apart in “And Justice for All” and “The Insider.”
Pacino underplays the righteous fury of a jaded public defender jabbing against the legal system, who is subsequently forced to represent a rapist judge; Crowe, on the other hand, portrayed real life whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand, who exposed the nefarious activities of Big Tobacco.
Meanwhile, love him or hate him, in the documentary drama genre Michael Moore has blazed a trail by humorously taking on corporate power, war politics and the U.S. health system in films like “Roger and Me,” “Fahrenheit 9/11,” and “Sicko.”
And before Bernie Madoff’s fantastical greed was chronicled in the recent “Chasing Madoff,” a docu-drama that highlighted investigator Harry Markopolos’ 10-year obsession to bring the Ponzi schemer justice, there was “Enron: The Smartest Guy’s in the Room.”
That documentary, based on the best-selling book by Fortune magazine reporters Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind, is a must-see that dramatically captures the 2001 implosion of the Houston based energy company.
Whilst I wouldn’t put Chris Evans in the Pacino or Crowe class, the “Captain America” star slideseasily out of his superhero persona in the gritty indie drama “Puncture,” in which he plays a crusading lawyer with a cocaine and heroin habit.
Directed by Adam and Mark Kassen and written by Chris Lopata, Evans plays real-life Houston attorney Mike Weiss, who, with his straitlaced law partner Paul Danziger (Mark Kassen), takes on a huge pharmaceutical firm determined to keep a foolproof safety syringe off the market, while continuing to manufacture a defective needle stick that caused thousands of U.S. nurses to be accidentally infected by HIV, Hepatitis C and other infectious diseases.
Not only that, but research has come to light that needle re-use in Africa and Asia directly cause 1.3 million deaths, 23 million hepatitis infections and 260,000 HIV/AIDS cases annually.
As the film unfolds, Danziger and Weiss’ mom-and-pop personal injury firm are just getting by; Danziger, married with a child on the way, is bringing in clients using his connections and friendships to piggy-back with other larger law firms.
Weiss is spending considerable time and effort going after the big boys, representing a worker suing the Fire Department for exposing their negligent practices.
But Weiss is also in the depths of junkie hell, with a secret lifestyle that includes a bevy of drugs and prostitutes.
Thus, a party at his home sees his ex-wife search every room looking for him with a gun and nearly blowing his head off when she finds him.
Nevertheless, it’s not long before the partners dig deeper into a case involving Vicky (Vinessa Shaw), a local ER nurse, who is pricked by a contaminated needle on the job.
That leads them to hobbyist inventor Jeffrey Dancort (Marshall Bell), who has patented a full-proof retractable syringe, but can’t get any of the large hospitals in Houston or nationwide to use his life-saving device because of the monopoly held by the biggest needle supplier.
It seems to play into what filmmaker Spike Lee — himself no stranger to pricking the high and mighty with his Hurricane Katrina documentaries — says are the latter-day morals of the capitalistic system.
“If they had to choose between profit and saving their mothers, they would choose profit every time,” he said.
Undeterred, the young lawyers actually file an anti-trust case against the big time pharmaceutical firm, only to come up against slick attorney Nathaniel Price (Brett Cullen) and his team of 300 lawyers.
As Price charmingly warns them at an initial meeting at his vast estate, his clients — who we subsequently find out own the entire medical establishment and politicians in Washington — will swat them like flies and they best drop the case.
Think they will?