The second big screen attempt to bring the comic book anti-hero Frank Castle, AKA "The Punisher" far exceeds expectations. A dark, gritty, violent movie with a heart and soul. A film that casts aside the garishness of stereotypes and gives us something we're not quite so used to seeing in film, originality.
After his last mission with the FBI, Frank Castle watches as his entire family is slaughtered in the most brutal and ruthless means possible. One year later, Castle sets out to punish those responsible for the act. Yes, I am aware that this is hardly an original concept, but this is not a concept film, it's more like film noir, a character piece rather than an idea piece.
The Punisher himself is played equally well as the loving husband and father, Frank Castle, and as the hollowed out shell of a man who is The Punisher. His descent into darkness is a believable one for the very reason many reviewers have downed this movie, the violent methods used to kill his family.
John Travolta does a wonderful job of shattering the time tested "Goodfellas" gangster by providing us with a mob boss who not only sounds well educated, but is a cold and calculated businessman. Nowhere in this film will you find the track-suited mob boss chewing on cigars and spewing out lines that would make Snidely Whiplash chomp at the bit. Instead, you have plausible villains, not very likeable people, violent and sadistic, but deliberately vile.
Of course, The Punisher is not just a mindless gorefest or a braindead soot-em-up. It is a film with many layers. There is plenty of comic relief to prevent the film from being to bleak and tense, all of which is provided by Castle's new neighbors. However, aside from merely being a plot device, these characters seem to genuinely care about Castle, view him as a misfit, just like they are and embrace him even thought he is unable to embrace anyone else.
Make no mistake, this is a dark film, it is meant to be. It is a film about chance, cause and effect. In many ways, it is reminiscent of a style in film that has not been seen for some time. Everything that happens, everything that leads up to Frank Castle becoming The Punisher is blind chance and simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Punisher is neither hero nor villain, much like most of the rest of us. He is simply a man who has lost everything and, through the course of seeking his vengeance sees a greater truth to his "new" life. "It's not about vengeance, it's not about justice, it's about punishment".
A dark film, blending the surreal comic elements with the very real human elements, this film will hardly be embraced by the masses, yet in time it will be understood. SUrely anyone familiar with the source material will find much to enjoy in this film. Even those not familiar with he source material will appreciate the genre itself. Anyone who enjoyed "Falling Down" will certainly enjoy "The Punisher".
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