September 26, 2011


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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PUNCTURE:  Worth A Ticket – A Bracingly Dark Ride


No one is going to see PUNCTURE in theaters, and that’s a shame, because unaccountably, it’s one of the best pictures around.  “Unaccountably,” because this is a film that doesn’t even seem to know there’s a radar to fly below:  although it contains an award-caliber performance by Chris Evans–yes, Captain America Chris Evans; No, I don’t get it either–it made little stir when it screened at the Tribeca Film Festival last spring, it’s playing in 2 theaters in NY and 1 in LA (the latter was half-full for a weekend show), and according to Amazon, a January date has already been set for the DVD release.  So like the story it tells, the film itself is something of a lost cause, but one that deserves to be championed.


At first, Puncture seems like it’s going to be the FX version of TNT’s goofy TV show Franklin & Bash  That’s the one about a pair of wacky young lawyers who are brilliant in the courtroom but who party hard and constantly after hours.  (It being TNT, “hard-partying” means a great deal of beer and some bong jokes.)  Mike Weiss (Evans) is a lot farther gone, with tastes that include coke, crack, pills and a copious number of hookers.  Mike has driven off his wife, his colleagues, and really almost everyone else except his best friend and partner Paul Danziger (Mark Kassen, who also directed with his brother Adam); he’s a genuinely, if sometimes barely, functioning drug addict.


Puncture is one of the rare “based on a true story” movies that actually feels as if it is one, and that’s probably due in part to the fact that Danziger himself gets co-story credit on the script with Ela Thier, and that he’s clearly a believer in the “warts and all” school of storytelling; the screenplay itself is by Chris Lopata.  (This is the first feature for both directors and all of the writers.)  When the partners, in the late 1990s, take on the case of a nurse (Vinessa Shaw) stricken with AIDS due to a dangerous type of hypodermic needles used in hospitals, and then the inventor (Marshall Bell) whose far safer needle is being kept from sale by the medical supply conglomerates, their interests are more ambitious than charitable.  And even when they commit to the case, they falter as much as they succeed, often at the mercy of the conglomerate’s lawyer Nathaniel Price (Brett Cullen, in a marvelously smooth villainous turn).

The film is, to a large extent, about human frailty and corruption, and it doesn’t spare anyone, going far darker than you’d ever imagine it would (this isn’t Erin Brockovich).  Even the characters whose hearts are in the right place fail their friends and colleagues, and the story has the challenging ring of real life.  Evans is stunningly convincing as someone whose brain simply will not turn off (he practices his closing statements on the hookers, pimps and druggies who hang out with him), a man on the precipice between the possibility of rescuing himself and falling apart.  To its credit, and indicative of Puncture‘s startling tone, the movie never has the scene where anyone tells Mike moralistically how he’s ruining his life, or where he almost runs over a child or commits some other heinous act while under the influence so he can understand that he has to change his life; when he tries to reform himself, it’s for the most pragmatic reasons.

With the exception of Bell’s stubborn client, in his own way as self-destructive as Mike, the other characters are thinner–Danziger is little more than the responsible partner with a pregnant wife, Price’s corporate evildoer is straight out of every John Grisham novel–but all are extremely well played.  Even in small parts, Shaw as the pitiable nurse and Kate Burton as a blunt Senator whose influence the lawyers court are worth noting.  Despite what must have been a very low budget, there is crisp photography by Helge Gerull, hurtling editing by Chip Smith, and a distinctive score by Ryan Ross Smith, all of them also doing their first notable feature work.

Puncture isn’t fully satisfying.  There’s a plot device late in the story that’s played far more sentimentally than anything in the rest of the movie, and although what happens in the final scene makes sense, it’s something that also would have made sense had it happened 45 minutes earlier, and there’s no attempt to explain why it didn’t happen then.  But the film is head and shoulders above what we usually see in this genre, and it’s marked throughout by what appears to be a high degree of honesty.

Puncture will probably vanish from any theater near you in the next week or so.  But get it on your Netflix queue, and check for it in early 2012 to stream or record on your DVR.  It’s worth the effort.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."