Having barely folded up his campy Captain America comic book costume in the box labeled “Burn This,” Chris Evans returns to prove he has enough kilowatts to shine in a script chosen for something besides money. In Puncture, he gets a real workout. It’s a harrowingly grim true story about a functioning Houston attorney named Mark Weiss, who was also a functioning playboy addicted to drugs and prostitutes while running a personal-injury law firm with his responsible, straight-laced best friend and married business partner, Paul Danziger (played by Mark Kassen, who co-directed the film with his brother Adam) when, in 1998, they took on a case defending an E.R. nurse who was pricked by a needle and contaminated with H.I.V. while on the job. It seemed like a viable, by-the-books case until it backfired, exposed the corruption and wrath of the health care industry, and turned into a David and Goliath story that made headlines, wrecked their health and nearly destroyed their careers.
Uncovering the shocking statistics (800,000 medical workers in 1998 were suffering from hypodermic needle accidents resulting in hepatitis C and AIDS), Mark Weiss was aghast to discover a safety needle that prevents such catastrophes from ever happening, yet which hospitals refused to buy because of the purchasing contracts they signed with pharmaceutical suppliers. Battling corporate greed, price fixing and the elimination of legal competition, Mark Weiss found himself targeted by powerful drug companies that got a kickback for every conventional needle sold. He went to court, lobbied the U.S. Senate, and tried a case that challenged the antitrust laws, all while hopped up on cocaine himself. When he finally found a sympathetic senator (Kate Burton) who agreed to support his demand for law reform, the organized, politically grounded drug merchants headed her off by making sizeable contributions to her re-election campaign. Devastated and facing ruin, Weiss sapped his energy and bankrupted his partner, but Chris Evans shies away from nothing in the raw-emotions department. Trying to clean up his act, the withdrawal scenes are especially grueling.
This is a thinking man’s film, meticulously researched and assembled by people who actually lived through the events it depicts, raising issues that impact the viewer on several levels at once. Puncture is about an abuse for profit that endangers the lives of everyone who has ever entered a hospital for treatment of even the most minor illness. It is also a responsible and dramatically implosive human drama about one man with the courage to stand up for a just cause, saving people’s lives while combating the demons in his own. Chris Evans is as dynamic in the small scenes as he is in the crashing melodramatic ones. After he crosses over to the dark side and dies of an overdose, his partner, who opposed the safety needles and begged to have the case dropped, changes his focus and takes the monolithic drug industry to court. The result changed the medical industry, and thanks to one afflicted man’s persistence, safety needles have now saved thousands of lives. Still, as the film’s coda points out, some daunting facts remain: safety needles are still unpopular with drug suppliers because they cannot be sterilized for reuse, and are therefore too expensive to manufacture. Some hospitals still use the old needles, resulting in the spread of disease. And plastic needles are still used in poor countries with epidemics to save money. Like any good cautionary tale, Puncture tells a suspenseful story responsibly, creating food for thought and leaving the audience both enlightened and entertained.
Running Time 100 minutes
Written by Chris Lopata
Directed by Adam Kassen, Mark Kassen
Starring Chris Evans, Mark Kassen and Vinessa Shaw
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