The Punisher

The Punisher

directed by Jonathan Hensleigh

starring Thomas Jane, John Travolta, Will Patton, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos

Lions Gate Films

From the Sergio Leone-esque opening credits thundering, climactic, explosive gunfights, it is obvious that The Punisher is more than a comic book action film. Interestingly, it takes the best aspects of westerns; redemption, justice and vengeance and wraps them in a shotgun shell of blood, guts, sex, money, power and loud explosions.


The film opens with Special Ops agent Frank Castle (Thomas Jane) winding down his last case, intercepting a cachet of illegal guns. The bust succeeds and the bad guys are nabbed but not before a small time criminal, Bobby Saint, is killed. Unfortunately for Castle, Bobby is the favorite son of Howard Saint, a powerful Tampa banker with fingers in many pies of illicit and unlawful activity. As he winds towards retirement, Castle is unaware that one man’s death will ruin his entire life.

Castle spends his ‘retirement’ happily with his wife Maria (Samantha Mathis) and his young son Will (Marcus Johns). He revels in their company and his peace of mind. An unsuspecting Frank believes he will spend the rest of his days in a paradise of family and love. This happiness is thwarted when a vengeful Howard Saint unleashes his vengeance on Castle’s entire family. Everything that Castle loves is gone in a swift, powerful stroke.

Left for dead, Castle survives and pieces his shambled life back together. Eventually he retreats to a worn out apartment on the wrong side of Tampa were he plots his retribution under the scope of society.

As a living dead man, Castle makes the most of his time. He studies his prey carefully, using all of his cerebral acumen to plan the violent, painful demise of Howard Saint. As The Punisher, Castle manages to use experience, guile and lots of firepower to catapult himself into a climactic, violent confrontation with Saint and his Underworld lackeys. Castle systematically destroys Saint’s empire by making him destroy all that is dear to him. The Punisher’s retribution is so sweeping, bold and horrific that Saint destroys his marriage, his friendships, alliances and eventually his entire empire.

But something happens to Frank Castle as he changes and transforms into a full-fledged vigilante: he learns to be human again. While ‘making new memories’ he finds a new makeshift family in the most awkward of places, his apartment building. There he meets an out-of-sorts waitress named Joan (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) who is sweet on him and wants to make him live again.

Her scheme to ‘fix’ Frank is abetted by the bumbling Bumpo (John Pinette) and the meekly sublime, heavily pierced Dave (Ben Foster). The foursome forms an interesting and weird friendship that helps Frank in ways he could never imagine.


Based on the popular Marvel comic book, The Punisher resonates louder today then when it was first transformed into a film back in 1989. For one, this film has much better acting, cooler explosions and much more gratuitous violence. For another, it is released at a time, when vigilante justice and vengeance are culturally hip. Furthermore, The Punisher is not just a shoot ‘em up and kill ‘em flick, it is a character study on what pushes a man over the edge and frays away his morality and humanity.

The acting in The Punisher holds everything together. Thomas Jane has a gravelly enough voice to sound constantly tormented and pissed. His acting relies more on actions than on words. He uses facial expressions, leers and visceral stares to framework his character’s quiet rage. Overall his performance is convincing enough to carry the film. His performance in The Punisher could make his career soar. Joan is a pretty unglamorous role for Rebbecca Romijn-Stamos. Nonetheless she does a pretty decent job here. Will Patton is brilliantly diabolical as Quinton Glass, Saint’s trusty lieutenant. However, the best reason to see The Punisher is John Travolta. Travolta steals the movie with his surprisingly deep and powerful performance as the despotic, unsavory and slightly fascist Howard Saint.

Don’t believe all the pans by big film critic guys, The Punisher is an entertaining film. It manages to overcome several flaws that – once suspended by disbelief – make this a pretty cool flick. What flaws? For starters, the rules of ballistics and physics are completely ignored. Second, the script is pretty awful. It is laden with clichés, catch phrases and shlocky dialogue that at times is quite funny. Unfortunately. Writers Michael France and Jonathan Hensleigh have made the grievous mistake of making the film funny in places where it was not intended to be. Finally, and most critically, the film takes an irritating amount of time to get going. It gets bogged down in the backstory so much that its tempo is thrown out of sync for the first forty-five minutes. It is frustratingly aching to see the film open up and develop so slowly. Of course we are interested in knowing why Frank is such a tortured and broken man, pushed to the brink but get out with it already!

However, once things get going, The Punisher takes off and runs. It has something for everyone, car chases, fistfights, gadgets, girls and a vibrant orgy of guns that is sure to please every member of the NRA.


If you are looking for a great film here you are barking up the wrong tree. While it has all the trademarks of an action film, its western nuances may turn off some people. Likewise, if you want a character-driven drama steeped in emotion, then I suggest you see something else. If you love comic books, superheroes, mercenaries, or believe that a man’s search for substance in life is found in a modified Colt revolver, then you will love The Punisher!

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