I’ve already named my bad movie of the week, now its time for an action movie gem. “The Punisher” is a comic book adaptation and is one of three films that have tackled this character already and this is by far the best version.
Frank Castle (Thomas Jane) is an FBI undercover agent in the middle of an undercover sting operation, where he causes the death of criminal Howard Saint’s (John Travolta) son. Castle’s cover is blown and a group of mobsters kill his entire family while he is at a family reunion. Castle survives this attack and plans an attack against the entire Saint family. Castle dons a skull blazoned shirt and becomes “The Punisher”, a vengeful hero that fights against those who pray on the innocent.
Thomas Jane fully embraces what Frank Castle/ The Punisher is. His performance goes from nice and happy everyman to an angry anti-hero who is beyond fully understanding. Jane exudes so much pain and guilt in his performance, a performance that is surprising for a supposedly action driven filmed. The film has elements of dark humour throughout, but for the most part it’s a highly serious revenge movie and all the actors play it straight. Travolta is excellent as a the untouchable and slimy villain. Like Castles evolution as a character, Howard Saint goes from confident rich man with the perfect life to seeing his entire life fall apart in front of him. The film also has great supporting roles from Will Patton as a sadistic associate of Travolta and Ben Foster plays one of The Punisher’s odd neighbours.
The action in “The Punisher” is ultra gritty and realistic, using hardly any CGI whatsoever. This is a refreshing change to the usual over the top, big budget action movies that are common nowadays. The scene where Castle’s family is murdered is a grim and violent scene, but one where the action is delivered with power and one where tension and dread is built superbly. Theres also a crazy fight between Castle and a massive muscle bulging Russian fighter that is superbly choreographed and very funny. The film has its fair share of action but in its two-hour running time, it allocates a lot of time to our heroes and our villains to be fleshed out and developed. The origins of this character (Frank Castle) is given a good half hour at the start of the film, which gives good reasoning to all violence and vengeance that follows.
“The Punisher” gives us a great action hero, terrific action scenes, a cast that embraces and takes the comic book material seriously.