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The Punisher
2004 - R - 124 Mins.
Director: Jonathan Hensleigh
Producer: Avi Arad, Gale Anne Hurd
Written By: Jonathan Hensleigh, Gerry Conway, Michael France
Starring: Thomas Jane, John Travolta, Laura Harring, Will Patton
Review by: Joe Rickey

Don't mess with a man armed with a crossbow.
While it is nothing approaching high art, ‘The Punisher’ exceeds relatively low expectations (Who wouldn’t have low expectations after the dreadful Dolph Lundgren adaptation back in the 80’s?) and ends up as an entertaining ballet of violence; the themes of loss and retribution always in the background in the midst of what quickly becomes a gruesomely violent tale of a man’s descent into all-out war against those who killed his family in a film starring Thomas Jane as Frank Castle, AKA “The Punisher” and John Travolta as the villainous Howard Saint.

A film such as ‘The Punisher’, like any comic book adaptation, relies on presenting a hero with whom the audience can easily sympathize with and therefore root for in the character’s fight against the omnipresent Evil that defines the world of a comic book film. With the character of Frank Castle, the audience is given just that. Who wouldn’t want to see him get revenge against those who brutally massacred his innocent family? It is in this way that the film mirrors most other revenge films out there. First, we witness the happy times as he celebrates with his family, and then comes the murders, and finally, now a changed man, he acts by gathering up an arsenal of firepower, crossbows, and other weapons in his singular quest to rid the world of those who have wronged others. Also, in this case, Castle acquires the muscle shirt with a large skull emblem; the signature of ‘The Punisher’ comic book. Anyone who has seen a revenge film anytime in his or her life will recognize such a set-up. It is now up to the filmmakers to create an entertaining product from a tried and true formula.

The film is able to succeed because of what writer/director Jonathan Hensleigh (Writer of ‘Armageddon’ and ‘Die Hard with a Vengeance’) does with the now stereotypical material to make it seem new, fresh, and exciting. First off, he utilizes a gritty stylistic cinematography technique to give the film a feel of an old-fashioned action film that, unlike most action films these days, doesn’t utilize much, if any in the way of computer graphics or special effects. This particular choice no doubt kept the film cost-efficient as the budget came in at 33 million, minimal for an action film, not to mention a comic book adaptation where the budget usually is over 60 million at least (‘Hellboy’: 60 million, ‘Spider-Man’: 100 million, ‘The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’: 90 million, ‘Daredevil’: 60 million). The action sequences therefore, seem all the more realistic; even when a bit of dark humor finds its way into a few notable sequences that I won’t spoil for you here. Hensleigh succeeds most of the time at what he is trying to accomplish, but there are a few moments during the film where everything grinds to a halt in a feeble attempt to develop various supporting characters. These scenes lack the necessary conviction and instead come across as a sort of obligation on the part of the director towards fans of the comic book.

In the lead role, Thomas Jane brings stoic resolve to Frank Castle who won’t let anything get in the way of his mission. John Travolta, easily the biggest name in the cast, plays Howard Saint with the same devilish glee he brought to similar villains in ‘Broken Arrow’ and ‘Swordfish.’

If you are looking for an exciting time at the movies and want to see a film in which the bad guys get what’s coming to them, you could certainly do a lot worse than ‘The Punisher.’

Movie Guru Rating
An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater.
  4 out of 5 stars

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