Puncture

(R) ★★★☆☆

Chris Evans proves 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 Mark Weiss, a Houston-based playboy addicted to drugs and prostitutes while running a personal-injury law firm with his straight-laced best friend/business partner Paul Danziger (played by Mark Kassen, who co-directed the film with his brother Adam). In 1998, they took on a case defending an ER nurse who was pricked by a needle and contaminated with HIV. 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.

Battling corporate greed, price fixing and the elimination of legal competition, Weiss found himself targeted by powerful drug companies that got a kickback for every conventional needle sold (this had the effect of keeping safety needles out of hospitals). 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 contributing to her re-election campaign. Devastated and facing ruin, Weiss sapped his energy and bankrupted his partner, and Evans shies away from nothing in the raw-emotions department. Trying to clean up his act, the withdrawal scenes are especially grueling. Evans is as dynamic in the small scenes as he is in the crashing melodramatic ones.

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 in the name of profit that endangers the lives of everyone who has ever entered a hospital for treatment. It’s 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.

Like any good cautionary tale, Puncture tells a suspenseful story responsibly, creating food for thought and leaving the audience both enlightened and entertained.

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