“Madman. Genius. Playboy. Friend. Fool. Lawyer.”
Director: Adam Kassen, Mark Kassen
Cast: Chris Evans, Mark Kassen, Vinessa Shaw
Synopsis: A David and Goliath law drama about a drug-addicted lawyer who takes on a health supply corporation while battling his own personal demons.
WARNING: This review contains SPOILERS.
Apparently based on a true story, Puncture tells the tale of Mike Weiss, a small-time lawyer saddled with a serious drug addiction who, in the 1990s, took on the US healthcare system over its refusal to purchase syringes with retractable needles, a costlier option to the universally used plastic syringes, but one with the potential to save the lives of over 1,000 frontline healthcare employees each year. The original script for the story was actually written by Paul Danziger, Weiss’s real-life partner in the law firm, thus suggesting the ‘based on a true story’ tagline might just be more truthful than is usually the case, and, in one surreal scene, the real Danziger, in a walk-on role, gets to shake hands with his on-screen counterpart, played by co-director Mark Kassen.
Chris Evans brings an appropriately high level of energy to the role of Weiss, a high-functioning lawyer whose skill in the courtroom disguises a hard-core drug addiction involving the use of copious amounts of cocaine, heroin and booze, which is administered nightly by an accommodating oriental hooker as Weiss studies his text books following the departure of his wife. Weiss learns of the case of Vicky Rogers (Vinessa Shaw), a nurse who contracted HIV and hepatitis after accidentally being jabbed with a needle she was trying to administer to a junkie having a seizure. The incident inspired a friend of Vicky’s, businessman Jeffrey Dancort (Marshall Bell), to invent a safer syringe with a retractable needle that can only be used once, but the vast and powerful healthcare purchasing organisations refuse to buy it because of its higher cost, thus needlessly endangering the lives of hospital employees. Weiss ignores the concerns of his partner (Mark Kassen) to take on the case, but finds he may have bitten off more than he can chew when his drug addiction begins to affect his ability to function and the corporate lawyers employed by the healthcare industry begin to apply pressure on his law firm and its clients.
David and Goliath stories such as this always have a head-start when it comes to audience sympathy simply because we always like to see the little guy getting one over on the bully. In the case of Puncture, a movie that is well-directed by Mark Kassen and his brother Adam, the story is told in black and white with no shades of grey to muddy the waters: the Healthcare’s Group Purchasing Organisation, is portrayed as a shady cabal of suits willing to destroy Weiss if necessary to prevent spending more money than is necessary, and employing an agreeably oily lawyer in the form of Nathaniel Price (Brett Cullen), a bad guy who seems to revel in his place within the unprincipled corners of his profession. Price dominates every conversation he takes part in. He knows what needs to be done in every situation – which suggests we’re in for an explosive confrontation between him and Weiss.
Sadly, this confrontation never materialises, even though every development of the plot points to this outcome. To be fair, this isn’t the fault of the writers. We can’t complain about supposedly ’true’ stories straying from reality and then gripe when that reality doesn’t measure up to expectations created by cinematic convention. Due to Weiss’s premature death from an overdose, we’re prevented from seeing the adversaries square up – although Price and his cohorts do eventually receive their come-uppance – meaning that the film ends on something of an anti-climax. Despite this, the movie does a good job of eliciting our support for a deeply flawed character whose single-mindedness alienates all around him to some degree.