Homefront Director Gary Fleder Calls The Film a Western

The filmmaker behind Jason Statham’s latest thriller talks Westerns, screenwriter Sylvester Stallone, Kate Bosworth and how to cook meth.

In Homefront, Jason Statham stars as retired DEA agent Phil Broker, who wants to escape the memories of a drug bust gone bad and the loss of his wife by settling with his little daughter in a quiet Louisiana town. But trouble finds Broker in the shape of a drug addict (Kate Bosworth) who wants revenge after Broker’s daughter puts her bully son in his place in the schoolyard, and Broker has to do the same with her husband. When the woman asks her meth-dealer brother Gator (James Franco) to intervene, a series of events is launched that forces Broker to act – and brings him face to face with some old enemies. Based on a novel by Chuck Logan, Homefront was written for the screen by Sylvester Stallone, who once envisioned it as a vehicle for his Rambo character. But the movie now is tailored for Statham’s tough everyman persona, and bringing it to the screen is director Gary Fleder, whose own career was launched with the modern noir Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead and whose credits include Kiss the Girls, Don’t Say a Word and The Express. In this exclusive interview, we sat down with Fleder to talk about working with Sylvester Stallone the writer, Jason Statham and Kate Bosworth, why Homefront is actually a Western, and how the process of cooking meth is just about the worst thing you can imagine. Den Of Geek: I read that you and the cast looked at this as a Western.Gary Fleder: Yeah, I mean I think like every good film geek — there’s no bigger film geek than me, maybe Tarantino — I love the genre and as we all know, over the last 20, 30-plus years, the Western has been going in and out of style. True Grit’s a huge hit and people think, “Oh, the Western’s back.” And then all of a sudden, there’s no Westerns. I think that what I like about the Western paradigm is its simplicity. But in its simplicity there is all this great stuff going on with the characters and the dynamics. Like somebody said to me about Homefront, “Wow, it’s a really simple story.” I was like, “Yeah, it’s a simple story, but I wouldn’t call the relationship between James Franco and Kate Bosworth a simple story. Or him and Winona Ryder — there’s all these very eccentric relationships in the story. And also the one between Statham and his daughter. I think that by keeping the story tense but simple, you can focus on those little details and the behaviors in it, you know. It’s also a story about a father and daughter. You know, being a dad — I have a little girl who’s five and it’s challenging, it’s maddening, it’s inspiring. So, I think that the father-daughter relationship in this movie was also really compelling for me. It was a treat, because Jason’s not a dad so oftentimes he looked to me about certain behaviors and, you know, what’s it like to be a father, because that’s its own challenge. It’s sometimes interesting to wonder how your reaction to a particular type of story is colored by your own experiences — in this case, would you react differently to the story before you had your daughter?I don’t know. When I saw Man on Fire, which I think is just a masterpiece and the film that I’ve referenced a lot for this movie, I was very moved by the relationship between Denzel Washington and Dakota Fanning. I mean, Tony Scott took a lot of care and time to set up that relationship. And I remember seeing it and getting a little misty watching it. I think it’s either in you or it’s not in you, and either you have the connection to kids and the innocence or not. There’s a line in Homefront where she says, “I miss mom so much my stomach hurts.” That line was spoken by a good friend of mine. His son said that to him. He said he had tears in his stomach. That was a way of saying he was sad and I thought it was just beautiful — I sort of stole that one line in the movie. It’s the idea that that’s how kids talk — they can’t describe what it’s like to be sad but they said they have just tears in their belly or something, you know?
 Going back to the western thing for a minute, is this the way we can present them now, in modern guise, without actual cowboys and such?I don’t know. I mean, you know, you have a True Grit that’s a huge hit. You make No Country for Old Men, which is kind of contemporary but it’s a huge hit. You have Deadwood that’s on the air for like five, six years. So I think that everyone says some genre is dead till it’s not. Horror movies are dead then they’re not. Comedies are dead, then they’re not. Every few years people sort of revive a genre. I just think that to recognize the Western paradigm is to recognize certain archetypes. You know, I’ve got the sheriff. I’ve got the villain and the town who is afraid of him. I’ve got the outsider who comes to town who doesn’t want trouble, then trouble finds him. I mean, you have a lot of the same paradigms, but I think in that paradigm in this movie there’s still surprises. For example, Kate Bosworth has an arc that you never see coming. She actually changes. And I think that’s something you would never predict in the first half hour of the movie. So I think that expectations might be that maybe people think that these kinds of movies are pandering to the audience but I actually would say that this movie is just really entertaining. I mean, that’s the thing. It’s meant to be sort of be a really great diversion for 98 minutes. A lot of the public doesn’t think of Sylvester Stallone as a screenwriter or even remember that he wrote Rocky.Sly is actually a very, very good writer. I think he’s a good writer because he’s also a good actor, you know. A lot of the good writing is about understanding character motivation and that’s why David Mamet was an actor before he was a writer. Sly was certainly struggling as an actor back in the early ’70s before he became the writer on Rocky. And even when we worked together on Homefront, he did the rewrites, and then we did a rehearsal period, and I was really impressed and excited to see that all he cared about was, like, what did this character want in this scene. It wasn’t about the plot. It wasn’t about the machinations of the story, you know? It was always about the characters and what they wanted in the scene. I think he also confronted all his characters with a certain degree of empathy. I think he understood who they were. They weren’t just characters to him. But yeah, Sly is an Oscar-nominated writer for Rocky. He went up against Paddy Chayefsky on Network that year.
 This was originally written as a potential fourth Rambo film.Yeah I heard that too. I see some connection to that. I guess that means Rambo packed it in and moved to this town. To me there’s that sort of First Blood thing going on where you’ve got the town, the sheriff, you know, the “don’t get in my way, boy” kind of thing going on. But I don’t think the draft that I got was that draft. I think I got one that was developed closer to the book by Chuck Logan because it was a novel first. A very good book in fact. And a lot of the stuff that helped me with the script and the story later on was that I went back to the book and sort of got my head into the characters that way. My theory on that is that he might have realized that the time had passed not only for him to play Rambo again, but also for that kind of larger-than-life action hero.I think it goes back even to the original Die Hard, in that people like vulnerability in their heroes. I think what we haven’t referenced at all in this conversation is Cop Land. Sly and I talked about that, because I talked about that with Jason as well. Sly’s very proud of that film and he should be. He’s a guy that’s not the alpha male to the extreme. He’s this kind of schlubby guy in this little New Jersey town getting his ass kicked by local cops. And he has to rise to the occasion at the end — kind of like a western. So on Homefront, it really was a notion for Sly and Jason about investigating the vulnerability of the character. The guy who’s humble. He doesn’t want to fight. He apologizes even when he’s not in the wrong. But there’s also the idea that he’s going to be the man that he is, you know, at some point. Maybe it’s pride. Maybe it’s vanity. Maybe it’s his temperament but there’s a certain point where he can’t keep walking away from trouble. And I think the whole movie’s about the notion of loss at the very end. I won’t give away the ending but at the very, very end, when he has a critical moment with Franco, he has to decide what kind of man he’s going to be for his daughter. And I think again as a dad that’s a very powerful thing for me. When I watch that scene now I get teary. It just affects me. I think it’s just a very profound thing to think about — how does your kid see you. I was actually going to bring up the apology scene because it’s just something you don’t expect to see the hero doing — apologizing and walking away. He really spends the first half of the movie trying to walk away. It’s interesting for this kind of film and also interesting for Statham. It’s a different performance than I don’t think people are used to seeing from him. Was that something you and he talked about?First of all, Jason is very self-aware, I think. He’s very cognizant of his onscreen persona. Second of all, he really, really, really respects Sly. They’re very close friends, and he admires him greatly. He has tremendous admiration for him and his career, and I think that when Sly gave this to him he took it very seriously. Then as the process went on, I was talking a lot to Jason about letting his charm, his humor, the smile, all those things come out, and then Sly talked about the notion of the character’s humility. In the rehearsal process we talked about that too — even when you’re not wrong, to say I’m sorry makes you a bigger man. So I think that Jason really got that and it wasn’t hard for him. Even that scene at the gas station which has been used a lot in the promos, if you look at that scene in its entirety there’s a long period where he’s trying to not have it go sideways.
 Any thoughts on the rest of the cast?I do want to say I think that Kate Bosworth is really worth recognizing. I think that this is an amazing transformation for her. Even I’m astonished at her commitment to this, and how she physically and emotionally shows how ugly this character is. Hopefully, people will see just how she’s really evolved as an actor. It’s a very unpleasant character in a good way. The movie is set in this sort of pastoral environment with a very dark underbelly of the meth labs in the woods and that sort of thing, which seems to have gripped a lot of filmmakers recently. I think it was in the book and the book was written in 2000. So, Chuck Logan was ahead of the zeitgeist on that one. It’s all the fringe communities, the fringe areas of any small town are probably also the fringe of the drug culture. I’m sure they could manufacture cocaine, but I think meth is something you can manufacture if you can get access to the right chemicals, as we’ve seen from Breaking Bad. And also I don’t think meth is necessarily a big part of the story. It’s just more of a MacGuffin. The Gator character doesn’t care about anybody or anything but cashing in. Having spent time researching what goes into making meth, it really is horrible. To see them physically making it, it’s like the worst stuff you can imagine. It’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen in terms of how they manufacture it. I’ve seen demonstrations of it. So I think definitely it represents the fact that whoever’s making and selling it doesn’t care about the outcome of the person taking it, because it’s like basically handing them a shotgun and saying, “Put this in your mouth.” Homefront is out in theaters now. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for all news updates related to the world of geek. And Google+, if that’s your thing!