This angry dad wins hearts
100 minutes/Opens today
THE STORY: Former drug-agency officer Phil Broker (Jason Statham) retires to a small Louisiana town with his daughter Maddy (Izabela Vidovic) to live a quiet life. An incident at Maddy's school results in a confrontation with the volatile Cassie (Kate Bosworth), the sister of meth kingpin Gator (James Franco). The war of words between the two families soon escalates into deadly conflict. Based on a best-selling novel of the same name by Chuck Logan.
FOR a formulaic movie with zero surprises in its plot, this slab of Southern-fried revenge thriller is remarkably enjoyable.
This is mainly due to the cast never giving the impression that they are slumming, despite the script being based on what is essentially an airport-bookshop paperback.
But if this story of a lone hero standing up to a criminal gang feels familiar, note the name of the co-producer and screenwriter: Sylvester Stallone.
Here, Jason Statham does what he does best: Bringing the hammer down on bad guys. But he also finds a comfortable groove playing a contented single dad, before bad guys - as they so often do in Stallone movies - force him to become a hillbilly-hacking one-man army.
The story allows Phil Broker's (Statham) wrath to gather steam gradually, instead of it switching on like a light bulb. There is the standard action-hero journey during which the huggable American family man becomes an angry dad who fully exercises his American right to bear arms.
That nice-guy first third of the movie proceeds enjoyably, without excessive sentimentality.
Director Gary Fleder (Things To Do In Denver When You Are Dead, 1995; Runaway Jury, 2003) lays on the sun-dappled father-daughter moments, but knows when to stop pouring the saccharin. He knows how to use his actors, which is no mean feat especially when two Hollywood glamour pusses are cast as hard-bitten blue-collar types.
Winona Ryder (as meth lord Gator's on-off girlfriend Sheryl) and Kate Bosworth uglify themselves to play female rednecks, and they occupy a believable middle ground - just trailer-park enough, without becoming gap-toothed Southern caricatures.
Bosworth licks the authenticity problem with a startling physical transformation. The woman who used to be the embodiment of the all-American blonde (Blue Crush, 2002) looks emaciated and properly seedy. Her performance is intense, a mixture of manic and menacing.
James Franco, as Gator, does the opposite, dialling it all down, and is all the more effective for it.