The Punisher (2004)
By: Julian on October 10, 2009  | 
Columbia Tristar (Australia). Region 2, 4 & 5, PAL. 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1, Czech DD 5.1, Hungarian DD 5.1. English, Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Finnish, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Icelandic, Norwegian, Romanian, Serbian, Slovenian, Swedish Subtitles. 118 minutes.
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Jonathan Hensleigh
Starring: Thomas Jane, John Travolta, Rebecca Romijn, Will Patton, Ben Foster, Roy Scheider
Screenplay: Jonathan Hensleigh
Country: USA
External Links
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Frank Castle's first appearance in pop culture was in 1974 in Marvel Comics' The Amazing Spider Man. He was first committed to celluloid in 1989, played by Swedish tough guy Dolph Lundgren. One of the taglines for that film, "Judge. Jury. Executioner. All in a day's work", best summarises Castle's – the Punisher's – work credo. In the Punisher's 2004 film reprisal, Castle is presented as an unblemished goodie before his family is assassinated by a corrupt businessman, and he embarks on an exceptionally brutal vengeance, the means justified by the satisfyingly gruesome end of a merciless gangster.

Frank Castle (played by Thomas Jane, who was also exceptional in his next lead role as David Drayton in The Mist) is an FBI agent who is embarking on his final mission before devoting his life to his wife and young son. During this mission Bobby Saint – son of Howard (John Travolta), a prominent Miami businessman and mob boss – is killed. Having washed his hands of his work as a G-man, Frank heads down to Puerto Rico for a family reunion, but Howard and his wife Livia bribe the FBI for Frank's identity and whereabouts. At Bobby's funeral, Howard is asked what he wants done regarding his son's death and he asks for Frank to be killed – however Livia expands the retribution to include Frank's family. A hit squad is sent down to Puerto Rico and Frank's wife and son are murdered and Frank is shot and left for dead. A local man nurses him back to heath and Frank begins to exact his highly calculated revenge, first commandeering Howard Saint's money laundering business before dismantling Saint's connections, all the while repelling the motley crew of psychopaths the gangster sends after him.

The Punisher is one of my favourite revenge movies of the past ten or so years. It's a film of fittingly grisly brutality and Thomas Jane's Castle is played without any hint of mercifulness. He's a nice guy against whom the most vile crime was committed – the murder of his family – and the revenge, however bloody or however over-the-top, never seems excessive. Obviously as a comic book movie there's the flamboyance that's typical to these sorts of films (and I'm talking as a general rule here, looking towards the Dark Knight's and not the History of Violence's of the genre) and so it's not really played straight, though it remains convincing enough to be a satisfying middle-way between the disappointingly understated sort of revenges seen in films like Thriller: A Cruel Picture and the overtly histrionic a la Kill Bill: Volume 1 (though it probably leans towards the latter end of the spectrum; it doesn't foreground realism to the extent of more middle-ground pictures like, say, Death Wish or Death Sentence).

The acting in The Punisher is quite exceptional, both by Thomas Jane and the various array of significant key players paraded at various points (Travolta, Rebecca Romijn, Ben Foster, Will Patton and Roy Scheider are particularly good). Jonathan Hensleigh's direction is also top notch and in this debut feature Hensleigh, a screenwriter by trade whose credits include Armageddon, Jumanji and Die Hard with a Vengeance, manages to evoke a very seedy atmosphere as Castle is holed up in his dank armoury. This is ably aided by Conrad W Hall's cinematography, a bit MTV-ish but Hall is from good stock as a DP: his old man Conrad L won little gold men for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, American Beauty and Road to Perdition, and Conrad W worked as a camera operator on Se7en under Darius Khondji, and that film's visual style seeps through to a lesser extent here.

All in all this is a terrific movie, a wild revenge flick that doesn't outstay its welcome after two hours, showcases some great performances and some rip-roaring violence. Watch it.
Presented in its OAR 2.35:1 with 16:9 enhancement, The Punisher looks brilliant.
English audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and it sounds good. Roman composer Carlo Siliotto gives a sufficiently moody score.
Extra Features
An excellent package is compiled here: a commentary by Jonathan Hensleigh, a 30-minute making-of featurette, 28-minute stunt featurette, a 3-minute music video for the Drowning Pool track Step Up, two deleted scenes totalling 3 minutes and a theatrical trailer. Two additional featurettes (running for 13 and 10 minutes each) are included in the Region 1 release. There is also an R1 release labelled 'the Extended Cut', which runs 143 minutes (NTSC).
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Great fun, powered by good performances, direction and camerawork, and fittingly violent revenge scenarios.

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