”My actions are not vengeance, they are not revenge, they are emotional responses. No, this is.....punishment.”
So speaks Frank Castle (Tom Jane) a.k.a The Punisher. Except of course that is not true. Based on the Marvel comic book of the same name this chapter of the Punisher is indeed about revenge and vigilante vengeance. Frank Castle is an ex Vietnam veteran working his last case as an undercover agent for the FBI. During an arms deal the son of a powerful mob banker Howard Saint (John Travolta) is killed. Saint and his wife are overcome with grief and order the annihilation of Castle's whole family. Conveniently they are all having a family reunion making it easy for Saint's heavies led by Quentin Glass (a movie stealing performance by the excellent Will Patton) to murder the whole family. Frank is shot and left for dead. With the help of Candelaria, a local fisherman, he is gradually nursed back to full health, and, clutching the last gift his murdered son gave him (by chance a black T-shirt with a white skull on the chest) he sets out to find the man responsible for his family's slaughter and...well punish them.
The Punisher is a gritty, relentlessly bleak action thriller directed by Jonathan Hensleigh, a first time director, who is better known for his writing credits on movies such as Armageddon, The Saint and Die Hard With A Vengeance. Despite its morally dubious tone the Punisher series of comic books have always been special. Castle is no superhero; he has no special skills, just a single mindedness in the fact that what he is doing is right. That his victims need punishing, and the law is failing in its duty to protect the innocent. Hensleigh realises this and has grounded the movie in a similar way. A buffed up Tom Jane (he has dropped the Thomas) steps adequately into the shoes vacated by Vin Diesel, who passed on the role, and John Travolta is a convincing bad ass full of brooding, smouldering violence. The spaghetti westerns of Leone, and the gritty urban thrillers of Don Siegel obviously heavily influenced Hensleigh. This is by no means a bad thing as the material fits this style like a hand in a glove. The camera flits from wide, scene setting shots to facial close ups and the opening bars of the theme have a similar feel and ambience as those penned by Ennio Morricone.
The Punisher is a good movie. It is a simplistic revenge thriller that, while lacking the dialogue and ultra cool visuals of Kill Bill, provides solid entertainment that is well acted and beautifully shot. There are some scenes that don't fit tonally with the rest of the movie, where uneasy comedic elements are introduced, these however can be forgiven.
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