The recurring close-ups of syringes, merely being handled and sheathed, provide an illustrative reference point for the unnerving tension that permeates the duration of Adam & Mark Kassen’s first dramatic feature, Puncture. The film is an exhaustively researched dramatization of a legal case that saw little media attention in its time: a small, two-lawyer, personal injury firm that took on the case of an engineer whose “SafetyPoint” needles stood to drastically decrease AIDS infections, but were mysteriously rejected for use by hospitals nationwide. Rather than focusing entirely on the procedural elements of the case, the film is driven by the psychological progression of Mark Weiss, the drug-addicted lawyer who refused to drop the case at any cost.  Read the full review after the jump…

Weiss is portrayed by an uncommonly serious Chris Evans. The soon-to-be Captain America holds his own in a role that requires not only his usual smug charm but a depiction of a much darker human struggle than we’ve come to expect of him. Across Evans, portraying lawyer Paul Danziger, is director Mark Kassen. The two characters complete a yin-andyang/light versus dark/chaos versus order dichotomy that the filmmakers seem compelled to make sure we don’t miss. Weiss’s world consists only of warm tones, messy rooms, rough edges, and Hispanics. Danziger’s world is characterized by cool tones (including a cartoonishly blue boardroom scene) organized offices, crisp lines, and Caucasians. While this dichotomy is effective in showing us the relationship between the two main characters, the same is just as easily established by their choice of facial hair, and these stylistic choices polarize the rest of the film (Is the entire legal world similar to Paul Danziger? And every coke dealer lives in the same world as Mark Weiss, a lawyer?)

The camera’s focus remains extremely shallow for the majority of the film, ranging from needlepoint precision (a visual metaphor that is difficult to believe to be unintentional) to a swaying, hazy imprecision. The latter is another fairly common cinematic device, one used frequently to depict the perspective of a protagonist lost in a drug-addled haze, but is at the very least executed with uncommon effectiveness that progresses throughout the film. In conjunction with hums and tones that rise and fall in the sound mix, and the occasional quieting or complete drop-out of the dialogue audio, this effect feels far more specific and well-thought out than the aforementioned blue-versus-orange. The technique brings us closer to understanding the fluctuations in Weiss’s mental state. It underscores the tension that disallows the film from becoming completely comfortable, even in its humorous moments (which still feel truly human and funny). And it keeps us in fear that circumstances will inevitably unravel, as Weiss refuses to admit they will.

The film does include a number of common movie tropes that are difficult to ignore, though it does not always rely upon them. The audience is treated to both a brief newspaper-articles-taped-to-the-wall montage and an even more brief P.O.V. dream sequence. Time-lapse footage of clouds represents the passage of time. There is even a scene in which a supporting character speaks with uncharacteristic candor and explains to the protagonist the message of the movie. All of these elements feel a bit overwrought, as if the Kassens felt they needed the audience to be sure they were watching a movie. Only one notable cliche, a rugged, young, moralistic lawyer matching wits with an older, stodgy, pragmatic, Southern lawyer, feels necessary, as it encapsulates the central struggle of the film: that between doing good by being uncompromising moral and doing good by being practical and effective.

Puncture is a heartfelt tribute to a cause that still demands attention and some of the incredible sacrifices that were made for it. While it does occasionally rely too heavily on its own stylization, it is grounded by its basis in reality, its enormous political significance, and the close relationship of the filmmakers to the real people depicted. It manages to be moving, though slick enough to remain entertaining, while never letting us get quite comfortable enough to relax in our seat.

Guest writer Nat Towsen is a freelance journalist, writer, filmmaker, and comedian.  He currently hosts The Moon, a variety show in New York City.