The film makes no bones about its subject matter, or that it has an agenda: advocating the use of safety needles in hospitals around the world. Largely because of its clear objective of portraying an important humanitarian message, the film often resembles a documentary, mostly to its benefit.
Adam and Mark Kassen, brothers and co-directors, tell a true story faithfully, without exploiting the audience or miring the film in melodrama. In doing so, they have constructed something vital and compelling, illuminating the obscure corners of a largely unexplored issue — needle safety.
All that said, the dogged pursuit of truth that the Kassen brothers insist on generates a thoroughly unlikable protagonist. Chris Evans plays Mike Weiss, an ambulance chaser who is also a fervent user of different narcotics, chiefly cocaine. Drugs give him an edge in the courtroom and therefore make him an effective lawyer, despite the fact that they consistently undermine his personal relationships. Weiss takes a special interest in the case of the nurse, who contracts HIV after being stuck.
The primary problem with the portrayal of Weiss is the total lack of an impetus for his interest. The motivation is not an economic one — that much is clear. It’s a good example of how a film that stays strictly true to life without extra development can be a detriment. The audience is led to believe Weiss took the case out of some nebulous sense of morality, without any explained depth or purpose. This aspect of Puncture comes off as inexplicable and contrived.
Why does Weiss possess this morality? What about this nurse provokes such a heroic response? These questions are left unanswered.
The directors don’t exert enough effort toward understanding this man, who is clearly complex and layered. The Kassens instead favor ensuring that the overall humanitarian message of the film is well communicated. This is admirable but still somewhat regrettable; the film has a very strong moral backbone, but it could use a more complex portrayal of the characters’ own humanity.
Nonetheless, the topical film makes an excellent case about needle sticks and the utter necessity of safety needles in hospitals, all without being didactic or overly expository. Well-paced editing and astute cinematography richly contribute to Puncture’s documentary style.
Performances are solid across the board. Mark Kassen, who took on acting duties, makes for an endearing Paul Danziger, Weiss’ partner. Jesse L. Martin and Michael Biehn make refreshing appearances in pivotal roles. And Evans is alert and charismatic as always, although his performance is short-changed by the writers’ inability to understand his character.
Much the same can be said for Brett Cullen as the icy attorney Nathaniel Price, who provides much of the film’s conflict. Unfortunately, he’s given more than a few notably arcane lines, which strain credibility even though his character is an interesting one.
In fact, his character seems to be at the crux of the film’s thematic exploration. Oddly, the Kassen brothers are insistent that he not be the antagonist of the film. It’s an interesting assertion, because no other character suits that role better than he does.
If the characters are to be taken at their words, however, one could argue that the antagonist of the film is not a character but a trait: apathy.
In Puncture, it seems Price once started out intending to make the world a better place. In the bulk of the film, however, he actively tries to prevent Weiss’ case from getting off the ground, with no regard for the lives that could be saved with safety needles.
What happened in between those two phases of his career, Price leaves to our imagination. It’s not difficult to assume that over the years, his sense of justice has been handicapped by apathy.
Apathy is what Weiss and Danziger must combat in taking on a large corporation and its government connections. There are no immediate threats to their lives, and while their livelihoods are somewhat shaky, pursuing the case does not leave them in economic peril.
It’s true that Puncture leaves Weiss’ motivations ambiguous. In the end, though, Weiss seems to be in a fight not against any one particular person or group, but against apathy, including his own.