Film review by: Witney Seibold
What an odd story to make a movie about. “Puncture,” directed by The Kassen Brothers, tells the true story of Mike Weiss, a drug addict Texan lawyer, who, in the late 1990s, essentially worked himself to death trying to get a new brand of retractable safety needles installed into the country’s hospitals. Over the course of the case, Weiss discovered the intricate, under-the-table dealings that hospital administrators engage in, and how only high-moneyed hospital supply manufacturers, with strong ties to Big Pharma, can finagle their own wares into hospitals. Even if a safety needle would remove accidental nurse stickings altogether, the moneymen are making too much money to replace the unsafe needles already in place.
This is the same sort of civil action lawsuit movie that we’ve seen before (in films like “A Civil Action,” “Erin Brockovich,” and much of the works of John Grisham), but is, unfortunately, much more downbeat and angsty for its own good. A tale like this either needs to be a terse and rapid-fire drama rife with earnest shoptalk and casual details of the criminal justice system (á la “Anatomy of a Murder,” or any of a number of excellent courtroom dramas), or it needs to be an empty-headed, entertaining melodramatic chase movie (á la “The Firm”). What we get is, sadly, a film that feels sad and oversaturated and padded. Even the sight of Chris Evans, who plays Weiss, twitching and ranting and snorting coke with hookers, isn’t enough to give “Puncture” any sort of vital energy.
Here’s another thing: Weiss, it is stated, is one of the only lawyers who s interested in handling this case. Only he and his long-suffering partner (Mark Kassen, one of the directors) will touch it, and have the skill to figure out what’s going on. Weiss, however, is only on his A-game when he is high on cocaine. He is often seen sneaking off to bathrooms to do a few lines, and he comes back out, sharp as a tack, and rearing to go. We do see that his judgment is a little altered in his personal life, but his courtroom acumen is never affected by his addiction. Cocaine, the film seems to imply, makes Weiss a better lawyer. Or, as a friend of mine put it, cocaine was this particular Popeye’s spinach.
Another blow to the film was the depiction of the Bad Guys in the case. The opposition is represented in “Puncture” by an ultra-rich blueblood named Nathaniel Price (Brett Cullen), who is perfectly smarmy, and only needed to wickedly rub his hands together to complete his supervillain image. Something tells me that such ultra-rich people would be much more coolly and subtly insidious. This image of the supervillain would have been fine, had “Puncture” not gone the unfortunate extra step, and actually included a scene wherein Nathaniel and a mysterious shadowy colleague look out over the city, and discuss openly their evil plans to take over the state’s hospitals. For that moment, the film leaps from a gritty and well-photographed and dull coutroom drama into something comical.
Something kind of bonkers that I really appreciated was the appearance of a mysterious Deep Throat-style character, known only as “Red,” played by Michael Biehn. Biehn, never seen by anyone by Chris Evans, is so imposing in the role, and says such cryptic things, that you begin to suspect that he may be a hallucination. Or perhaps Weiss’ conscience talking to him. It adds a delightfully bugnutty supernatural streak to an otherwise straightforward film.
The film ends with a crawl, informing us of how many nurses catch diseases by accidental needle sticks in the average year, and how important an issue this is. I have no doubt that the safety needles talked about in the film would prevent these accidents, and I appreciate the struggle through the labyrinthine and corrupt Kafka machinery that some people have to make to ensure that right is done. But this seems like such a dark and serious and dreamy drama to tackle such an issue.