starring Tom Jane, John Travolta, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Laura Harring
screenplay by Michael France and Jonathan Hensleigh
directed by Jonathan Hensleigh
by Walter Chaw A barometer of our culture--an exploding western world balanced between listless fatalism on the one side and violent nihilism on the other (Elephant and Young Adam vs. Walking Tall, The Passion of the Christ, and Man on Fire)--at this exact moment in time, long-time blockbuster scribe Jonathan Hensleigh's hyphenate debut is his adaptation of Marvel Comics' vigilante title The Punisher. With the possible exception of Mel Gibson's ode to sadism, this is the year's most irredeemable picture thus far, but it's elevated by a bracing idea, an astonishingly courageous idea: that its hero and villain are equally reprehensible, and, by extension, that both of them do what they do because in their psychotic haze, the only thing they have to tie them to any kind of illusion of equilibrium is the dangerous idealization of their families. When a picture like this appears in the middle of a glut of vigilante flicks and in the middle of a society that may have been led into a predictably cruel and bloody war on the basis of a personal grudge, one forgiven by many for its specious association with a collective insult to our illusion of sanctuary, people should prick up their ears. While The Punisher may not be a particularly good film, it is a particularly important one.