Film Reviews

THE PUNISHER (Victoria)

By • Apr 16th, 2004 •

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QUOTE: Edgy, dark, and menacing.

I would first like to highly recommend “Shamanic Dream II” by Anugama (Open Sky Music, www.openskymusic.com). I was introduced to this hypnotic, revelatory music in the Peruvian Amazon at a Huachuma ceremony.

Who insisted on putting various heavy furniture hairpieces on top of Thomas Jane’s head throughout THE PUNISHER?

THE PUNISHER is a simple, and often told, revenge tale. This one is well done and engrossing. It is also edgy, dark, and twists towards menacing. Frank Castle (Thomas Jane) is an FBI undercover cop in Tampa, Florida. While posing as a Russian arms dealer, Castle is “killed” when the FBI busts the operation and bullets start flying. The son of mobster Howard Saint (John Travolta) dies in the shootout. Saint is grief stricken and demands to know everything about the players involved. Who was the Russian that orchestrated the whole deal? When he finds out that it was an undercover cop who faked his death, Saint’s wife (Laura Haring) demands not only Castle’s death, but every member of his family.

Luckily for the Saint’s assassins the Castles are holding a huge reunion in Puerto Rico. Saint’s team, led by his right hand man (Will Patton), decimates the Castle clan. The body count is high but no blood is shed. Frank barely survives but five months later he is bearded, healed, and out for revenge on Saint.

Transitioning this character to action hero works because the screenwriters, Jonathan Hensleigh and Michael France, do not nod to the comic book genre. The Punisher has to contend with all the problems of the real world as a man without special powers. He doesn’t even have a costume. He’s just a man of few words who is very, very angry.

Castle goes about preparing his mission and sets up headquarters in an abandoned tenement. His only neighbors are the gorgeous, but bruised and battered Joan (Rebecca Romjin-Stamos), and two weird buddies, Bumpo (John Pinette) and Spacker Dave (Ben Foster). Joan works in an empty diner, Bumpo eats and Dave, significantly pierced, plays video games.

Saint sends out a guitar-playing assassin and then a Russian (Kevin Nash). The previous bloodless mayhem is discarded as first time director Hensleigh stages gruesome killings and heroically brutalizes Castle.

I yelled out a few times.

Hensleigh creates an unsettling, dank environment and laces it with interesting supporting characters. Travolta’s Howard Saint makes Alex Baldwin’s casino villain in THE COOLER look like a Mormon missionary on holiday. Travolta clearly enjoys playing ultra-rich maniacs with highly conflicted psychological problems. He clearly is enjoying himself here. Will Patton is given a defining scene where his lust for sadism changes THE PUNISHER from comic book fare into a disturbing SE7EN-like thriller (absent the rain).

Thomas Jane, who spends much of THE PUNISHER shirtless (abandoned tenements have no air-conditioning), gives this troubled hero a ruthless interest only in revenge. I recently saw HELLBOY again. While these two characters are not in any way similar, their comic book provenance allows for this comparison: THE PUNISHER has a strong degree of dread and menace that HELLBOY should have exploited.

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