The Punisher

A Film Review By The Mike

Rating:RATED R for lotsa violence and some language and nudity
Starring: Thomas Jane, John Travolta, Will Patton
Directed By: Jonathan Hensleigh

Final Grade:

As a recent saga said (or maybe it was an old Klingon proverb), revenge is a dish best served cold. It’s funny it said that, as it then proceeded to be two films filled with as much silliness it could hold. Sure, it still worked, but if you’re looking for a much colder version of revenge, seek out The Punisher.

Granted, the film won’t say it’s about revenge, but about punishment. And sure, I guess we can respect that, for the story of Frank Castle ends with the death of his family and the slew of bullets in his chest. That’s when a new man is born, one who doesn’t want revenge, because he can’t see as he used to. He only wants to punish those who killed him and his family.

But of course, we know he is alive, and that he is the same person, so we can view it as revenge. Or we can’t, it really doesn’t matter. At all. So let’s get to the movie.

The mythos of The Punisher has always been among my favorite comic book tales. A man so torn apart that he stops thinking as himself and starts thinking only as an executioner. He’s like a stronger version of Judge Dredd, only without any superior. The Punisher exists only to give wrongdoers their just desserts, and he’s the only one who gets to decide their fates. Sorry to Mr. Stallone, but not even Judge Dredd can top this guy in cool.

That said, the vision of the film needed to be dark and cold. Long-time screenwriter and first-time director Jonathan Hensleigh accomplishes that, with most of the credit going to his cast, and particularly his star Thomas Jane, who is perfectly macabre and down-trodden, although he still sports a decent sense of humor. Jane, who I’ve thought could be the perfect centerpiece for a movie of this sort for years, doesn’t disappoint one bit.

The supporting cast is excellent as well, and Hensleigh’s script gives adequate development to each of the film’s key players. John Travolta gets the most screentime of them as the evil mastermind Howard Saint, though he’s a much more minor player than you’d expect from a name of his caliber. Almost as much time is spent with the exploits of The Punisher’s followings of Saint’s wife (Mulholland Drive’s Laura Harring) and his consiglieri (Remember the Titans’ Will Patton), each of whom play their roles perfectly. Then we meet The Punisher’s mysanthropic neighbors, a wacky bunch that includes Rebecca Romijn-Stamos in another surprisingly small role. The time spent fleshing out who each character is is admirable, especially when the movie strays from the heart of its source material.

There are important characters from the comic offered up as minor villains, however. These two baddies (a mariachi-esque old man and a ginormous Russian) get minimal introduction and maximum carnage, and are involved in the film’s best action moments. The battle with “The Russian” (played by pro wrestler Kevin Nash) is particularly wonderful, and is among the most memorable fight scenes I’ve seen in years. The concluding attack by The Punisher is also wonderfully executed, and surprisingly gory.

The Punisher is a surprising action film that spends just as much time developing its characters and setting up their conflicts as it does dealing with them. It’s a truly noteworthy achievement by the filmmaker and cast, who’ve turned out a product that’s better than most expected it to be. While not a classic by any means, The Punisher is a solid tale of punishment and (in essence) revenge, that’s served up perfectly cold.

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