City of Needles: Houston-Filmed Puncture Comes Home
Mark Kassen and Chris Evans as Houston underdog lawyers in Puncture.
Courtesy of Millennium Entertainment
We all know the standard Hollywood courtroom scene: It usually involves a full house, immaculately dressed lawyers and a snarky judge. The best drama happens on the witness stand, and nothing's ever settled out of court.
But in Puncture, Mike Weiss, the real-life Houston lawyer portrayed by Chris Evans in Puncture, is a different sort of cat. His loud suits are a far cry from the subdued salt-and-pepper of Law and Order; if that weren't enough, he keeps crocodiles in his house and senators hand him Kleenexes to wipe cocaine off from under his nose. Weiss, who unfortunately died before he could see his work in paving the way for safety syringes to become common in hospitals, was also brilliant.
"Mike was, in fact, a very colorful person," Weiss's former partner Paul Danziger, who wrote the story for Puncture, tells Art Attack. "People think we're exaggerating when you see his tattoos, how he dressed, where he lived, but he really was like that."
The movie chronicles the true story of the small-time personal-injury lawyers who uncover a big pharma conspiracy while taking on the case of a nurse who contracted HIV after being accidentally stuck with a needle. The film is co-directed by brothers Mark and Adam Kassen, who saw the film as a chance to tell a previously untold story to a mass audience.
"We're both political junkies," Adam Kassen says. "In following the debate about health care, it was an interesting window into how it affects people you don't hear about. You hear about doctors and politicians and GPOs, but you don't hear about frontline healthcare workers."
It certainly is worth pondering: Around 800,000 health care workers are pricked accidentally each year in U.S. hospitals, and more than 1,000 of those workers contract HIV, hepatitis B or C, or other blood-borne illnesses.
"Our mother's an ER nurse, too, so it was sort of personal for us," Kassen says.
And Evans, known largely for fluffier work like Captain America and the upcoming What's Your Number, plays the complicated Weiss with real verve, humor and depth. The actor tells Art Attack that he spent time talking with Weiss's family and friends, including Danziger, to get a feel for the character.
"It's a struggle when you're playing a real person," Evans says. "You can't veer off, you have to stick with what's given you."
The Kassens also were dedicated to preserving the authenticity of both the story and the setting: Puncture was filmed on location here and made use of local talent and crews. (And local legal hot shot Mark Lanier makes an appearance -- as himself).
The Kassens also talked extensively with Danziger, Weiss's colleagues, friends and family to get a grip on the story, the character and the setting. And the Kassens present an un-Hollywoodified image of Houston: Downtown, with its looming skyscrapers and small city streets, could be Gotham's sister city. Meanwhile, Weiss and Danziger (played by Mark Kassen) don't have funny accents, they don't drive Cadillacs and they don't live in mansions.
"I think some people have a gentrified version of what lawyers do," Danziger says. "But on the ground level, we deal with a spectrum of society."
Yet Evans can't resist going for a grand Hollywood cliché when asked what his favorite scene in the film is."The courtroom scenes were fun," he says. "Everybody wants to play Atticus Finch."
Puncture starts Friday, September 23, at Landmark River Oaks, 2009 W. Gray, 713-866-8881.
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