Castle’s mission has the unintended effect of placing his fellow tenement dwellers in danger. Yet Joan, Dave and Mr. Bumpo rally for their neighbor, even at great personal risk. This makeshift family – forgotten men and women with no one to protect them – brings Castle the one thing he least expects: redemption.

(2004) Film Review

This page was created on April 1, 2004
This page was last updated on February 6, 2008

Review by Melinda Ledman
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About this Film
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Dial up modems will take a few moments


Directed by Jonathan Hensleigh
Sceenplay by Michael France and Jonathan Hensleigh

Ari Arad ... co-producer
Avi Arad ... producer
Anson Downes ... associate producer
Christopher Eberts ... executive producer
Linda Favilla ... associate producer
Kevin Feige ... executive producer
Andreas Grosch ... co-producer
Gale Anne Hurd ... producer
Chris Roberts ... executive producer
Andreas Schmid ... co-producer
John H. Starke ... line producer
John Starks ... line producer

Cast - in credits order
Thomas Jane ... Frank Castle aka Punisher
John Travolta ... Howard Saint
Other credited cast listed alphabetically
A. Russell Andrews ... Jimmy Weeks
John Baker ... News Reporter
James Carpinello ... John Saint
Jeff Chase ... Enforcer
Mark Collie ... Harry 'Heck' Thornton
Russell Durham Comegys ... Tattooed Mike
Hatcher Flaschen ... Sales Person
Ben Foster ... Spacker Dave
Laura Harring ... Livia Saint
Eddie Jemison ... Micky Ducka
Marcus Johns ... Will Castle
Alan Lilly ... Accountant
Nick Loren ... FBI Agent Moss
Terry Loughlin ... Spoon
Marc Macaulay ... Dante
Samantha Mathis ... Maria Castle
Kevin Nash ... The Russian
Tom Nowicki ... Lincoln
Will Patton ... Quentin Glass
Yamil Piedra ... Pit Boss
John Pinette ... Mr. Bumpo
Brett Rice ... T.J.
Rebecca Romijn-Stamos ... Joan 'The Mouse'
Roy Scheider ... Mr. Castle
Marco St. John ... Police Chief Morris

Original Music by Carlo Siliotto
Cinematographers by Conrad W. Hall
Edited by Steven Kemper

For rating reasons, go to FILMRATINGS.COM, and MPAA.ORG.
Parents, please refer to PARENTALGUIDE.ORG

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The Punisher

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Click to enlargeMarvel's unstoppable vigilante, THE PUNISHER, hits the screen in a new action thriller that introduces a comic book hero unlike any other. The Punisher brings to the screen one of Marvel's top-selling solo comic books and a marquee character whose popularity parallels that of Marvel stars X-Men, Spider-Man, and the Fantastic Four. The Punisher walks through the world we all know, a world darkened by war, crime, cruelty, and injustice. He has no superpowers to battle the evil he sees - only his fierce intelligence, his years of combat experience and, above all, his iron determination to avenge those wronged by society’s villains. A gritty tale of revenge and redemption, The Punisher is that rare thing – a work of entertainment that speaks powerfully to its times.

Click to enlargeThe Punisher marks the directorial debut of Jonathan Hensleigh, renowned screenwriter of genre blockbusters The Rock, Armageddon and Die Hard: With a Vengeance. Tom Jane (Dreamcatcher, 61*, Deep Blue Sea) stars as Frank Castle, the Punisher, squaring off against superstar John Travolta (Pulp Fiction, Face/Off) as the story's formidable villain, Howard Saint. Co-starring are Rebecca Romijn-Stamos (X-Men, X-2: X-Men United) as Joan, a woman climbing back from a troubled past; Laura Harring (Mulholland Drive) as Howard Saint’s vengeful wife, Livia; and Samantha Mathis (American Psycho) as Castle’s wife Maria. It is produced by Marvel Studios' CEO Avi Arad (The Hulk, Spider-Man, X-Men) and producer Gale Anne Hurd (The Hulk, Aliens, Terminator2).

Click to enlarge Frank Castle (Tom Jane) is a man who has seen too much death in his life, first as a Delta Force Op and later as an FBI special agent. He has managed to beat considerable odds, and is finally moving out of the field and into a normal life with his wife, Maria (Samantha Mathis), and young son, Will (Marcus Johns). On his final assignment, Castle plays his undercover role perfectly, but the operation spins out of control and a young man, Bobby Saint (James Carpinello), is inadvertently killed. This places the FBI on the wrong side of Tampa businessman Howard Saint (John Travolta) and his glamorous wife, Livia (Laura Harring). Notwithstanding their glossy social profile, the Saints are no genteel Florida couple; behind their copious wealth are violent beginnings, underworld ties – and a chilling capacity for brutality. Inflamed by the death of their son, the Saints are willing to risk their newfound legitimacy on a wholesale mission of blood-vengeance. Castle’s worst nightmare is about to come true, as Howard Saint and his lieutenants unleash hell at the Castle family reunion.

Click to enlargeBut Castle, to his everlasting torment, survives. Until this moment, he has spent his entire life adhering strictly to the law. However, experience has taught him that the law cannot adequately penalize the people who murdered his family. Drawing upon all he has learned in 20 years, Castle sets in motion a plan to punish the murderers. He takes up residence in a dilapidated tenement building in Tampa’s industrial district, where his fellow tenants include Joan (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), a waitress at a nearby diner who is trying to put her life back on track; Dave (Ben Foster), a gangly twenty-something with a face full of piercings; and Mr. Bumpo (John Pinette), a rotund gourmand who rarely leaves his home.
In preparing his revenge, Castle thoroughly familiarizes himself with the habits and routines of the Saint family. He traces the movements not only of Howard and Livia, but also their surviving son, John (James Carpinello), and Howard’s second-in-command, lawyer Quentin Glass (Will Patton). Armed with this essential knowledge, Castle launches his first salvo against Saint’s business interests. Stunned that Castle is not only alive but causing him harm, Howard Saint marshals his forces in an attempt to shut Castle down. He soon turns to the underworld’s network of hired assassins, recruiting the laconic Memphis legend Harry Heck (Mark Collie) as well as the blonde behemoth known only as the Russian (Kevin Nash).

Castle’s plan is proceeding apace, but his mission has the unintended effect of placing his fellow tenement dwellers in danger. Yet Joan, Dave and Mr. Bumpo rally for their neighbor, even at great personal risk. This makeshift family – forgotten men and women with no one to protect them – brings Castle the one thing he least expects: redemption. His personal goal achieved, Castle realizes that his life’s work has just begun. As The Punisher, he will provide justice for ordinary people and exact retribution from society’s villains.


Mike is the Senior Pastor at United at the Cross Community Church in Wichita Kansas. United at the Cross is a church made up of individuals not often accepted in other churches. The church consists of former gang members, drug addicts, prostitutes and others. Mike also speaks nationally on various topics and is a freelance writer. To learn more about Mike and his ministry link onto In the arts Mike has worked with top music artists such as Steppenwolf, Marshall Tucker Band, Kansas and has an active interest in film. Mike is pictured with his music band "Route 66."
As I've mentioned in many of my reviews, I enjoy comics and comic book series. We are in for a summer chock-full of highly anticipated adaptations of comic book movies. I look forward to the release of Spider-Man 2, but another favorite of mine was released this weekend, The Punisher.

While not having the following as other comics such as Spider-Man or Batman, to name two, Punisher fans are loyal and supportive. I hope that the release of this movie will bring new fans to the comic, and after my initial viewing of the film, I think there is actually a chance for success.

Click to enlargeOf all of the mainstream comic book characters that I can think of, "The Punisher" quite possibly has the most interesting storyline. While the movie does not have the years of background to fill, it does a decent job of giving us just enough background to be drawn into the characters. While Frank Castle/The Punisher, played by Thomas Jane, is the primary character we are drawn to, we identify with others as well. From the bad people, led by Howard Saint played by John Travolta, to some fun, off-beat characters like Spacker Dave -- played to a tee by Ben Foster -- we are drawn into the lives of all those The Punisher comes into contact with. There are many lessons to learn, and for some characters the results of their actions have serious consequences. For others that make a point to exhibit love, as opposed to oppression, there are rewards beyond what any could comprehend. This is not to say that those rewards don’t come at a cost, they do, but we see that ultimately there are rewards for choosing love over hate.

While it may be a minor spoiler here, the story and trailers have given much of the background information away. It is quite simple: before moving his family to London for a desk job, G-Man and cop Frank Castle completes one last job that goes seriously wrong. Then, before leaving for London, he decides to take his wife and son to a family reunion with approximately 30 family members. Howard Saint, played by John Travolta, finds out that this undercover cop, Frank Castle, who was supposedly killed along with his son, is still alive. He then decides to send his own man and personal executioner, Quentin Glass -- played wonderfully by Will Patton -- to take care of some unfinished business. Saint’s wife Livia Saint, played by beautiful Laura Harring, wants more than a little vengeance though, she wants a lot. After executing orders and leaving Frank Castle behind for dead, the mob of ruthless killers returns home. As the story proceeds though, we find that Frank Castle is not dead. After being nursed back to health, he is told to go and take God with him. But his reply is “I think I’ll leave God out of this one.”

There are so many spiritual parallels in this movie that it will be virtually impossible to cover them all, but I will try to touch on many of them.

One of the primary questions that many ask about God and about life is why it is that bad things happen to good people. The reality of that is -- while there are never any pat answers that can give total satisfaction to someone who has had something bad happen -- we are all faced with the fact that people in this world are all capable of making decisions that are either good or evil. And sometimes evil decisions affect those who are innocent. It is one of the great prices love has to pay. The presence of evil in this world makes us truly appreciate the joys of experiencing love. But the existence of love cannot change the hurt that comes about from evil, especially when that evil is done to someone we love very much.

This is much of what is happening in the life of Frank Castle. When he recognizes that he has lost the people he loves the most, he resorts to the only thing he knows: “punishment.” At one point in the script, Castle comments that it is not vengeance that he is executing, it is punishment, and there is a difference. This is a wonderful reminder that while we serve a God of love, we also serve a God who both is -- and will be -- just in His execution of punishment.

Sin pays off with death. But God’s gift is eternal life given by Jesus Christ our Lord.
- Romans 6:23 (CEV -- Contemporary English Version)

The sad thing is that while Frank is looking at punishment for those who killed the ones he loved, and later on for all rapists, murderers, thieves and more, I was reminded of the fact that in comparison to God and Jesus Christ, we are all evil and deserving of death. The movie in many ways actually helps portray this concept.

All of us have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.
- Romans 3:23 (CEV)

Along the way Frank, while caught up in punishment, loses all that was good about him. He turns to the bottle, drinking Wild Turkey whiskey as if it is iced tea. He loses compassion and concern towards any that he may come into contact with. This does not change the fact though, that there are those that have gone through many hard times themselves who are willing to love him in an unconditional and pure way. While Frank lives in a rundown apartment complex, we are introduced to possibly three of the best characters to come along in a movie in a long time. There is Joan, played by beautiful and talented Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, a down-and-out waitress who has had bad relationships with men her whole life. She in many ways is a kind of Mary Magdalene or Samaritan woman at the well that we read about in the New Testament. Then there is Bumpo, a heavy cook, played wonderfully by delightful standup comic John Pinette. Then there is Spacker Dave.

These three in some strange, offbeat, humorous ways draw the audience into the movie even more. They provide some wonderful comic relief but also drive in the nails to help us, the audience, understand the importance of sacrifice and love. While each of these characters are there in part to let us know that there are some people who can love unconditionally, they also remind us that this love often comes at great cost. We see this no better than in the example shown by Spacker Dave.

Spacker Dave is a skinny, meek young man who is covered with piercings. In one scene in the movie he makes a tremendous sacrifice to save Frank Castle from certain death, in many regards he becomes a Christ figure. While we have seen him love and dance, fellowship and comfort, we see in one scene his willingness to give himself for one he knows little, Frank Castle. I was reminded throughout the torture that involves his piercings of another that was pierced for us, the person of Jesus Christ, God’s only son.

A band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet.
- Psalm 22:16 (New International Version (NIV)

But [Jesus] was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
- Isaiah 53:5 (NIV)

[Jesus] bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.
- 1 Peter 2:24 (NIV)

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son [Jesus Christ], that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
– John 3:16 (NIV)

Spacker Dave, while being far from a perfect model of Jesus Christ, does as adequate a job as any normal man could do. It is his sacrifice, his piercings, and his love that help lead to a salvation from his enemies for Frank Castle.

After his rescue and understanding of the sacrifice that was made for him, Frank has to do something with his relationship with those that have loved him, but not before he finishes executing some of his own punishment. We are reminded that even for many who think they are saints, there is hell to pay.

I don’t believe it is any accident in this movie that the primary evil character in the movie has the name "Saint." Early on, we see that the club and business that he runs is named “Saints and Sinners.” I will guarantee that there will be many a Christian who bashes this movie because of its obvious intent to blast Saints (Christians). But we should be reminded of the fact that Jesus himself stated that there will be many who call him Lord that will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Not everyone who calls me their Lord will get into the kingdom of heaven. Only the ones who obey my Father in heaven will get in.
– Matthew 7:21 (CEV)

The unfortunate truth is that many pretend to obey God but in reality don’t. Just as in the movie, for many of these so-called Saints, there will be punishment and hell to pay. For many that will involve a fiery grave.

To come back to discussing the movie, the unfortunate truth is that some of the acting is a little flat; however, I don’t agree with the critics who include the character of Frank Castle in that category. Thomas Jane actually plays the part very well, especially for one who is going through a major bout of depression. Travolta is as brilliant as ever, with one of his best bad guys since Pulp Fiction. While some of the storyline is a little lacking, there is also enough interest to have me wanting a sequel. While Hellboy was a great letdown, The Punisher was a pleasant surprise.

All of this said, this movie is not for everyone. It is extremely violent and there are brief scenes of nudity and homosexual behavior. Regarding the violence, professional wrestler Kevin Nash was actually stabbed during one of the fight scenes with The Punisher. But these things do not negate the numerous opportunities to discuss spiritual issues with individuals seeing this movie. It is for that reason that I will gladly recommend the movie to those who can deal with this kind of subject matter.

I need to express a "disclaimer" here. I haven’t done this often on Hollywood Jesus, if ever, but I feel especially with a movie like this that I want to make something clear. My review of this movie, or any movie for that matter, is not to endorse a movie, although I sometimes do that. My intent is to provide points for readers to ponder, spiritual truths that can be obtained from watching the movie or that can be used to discuss the movie with those that do not know Christ. Not in a long time have I seen as many opportunities for thought and discussion as I did this evening. I will personally be looking forward to the discussions that will start because of this movie and its message.

On a scale of 1 – 10, I’m going to give a good kick off score for the summer of 7. Far from perfect but still good and well worthwhile.

Melinda Ledman is a graduate of Baylor University with a Bachelor’s degree in English. During college, she worked on the film Letter From Waco (director Don Howard), which won the award for best documentary feature in the 1997 South by Southwest Film Festival. After she and her husband Rob had their first child in September 2002, she began free-lance writing full time. In addition to writing reviews, she most enjoys writing original screenplays. She gratefully serves God after 12 years of alcoholism, and appreciates grace and freedom on a whole new level.
Click to enlargeThe Punisher will probably be a “love it” or “hate it” movie for most people. The critical comic book readers and those looking for an intense film on creative killing will likely hate it. But for those who enjoy a good testosterone “shoot-‘em-up” film with a delightful contrast of comic relief, The Punisher will deliver. It took three days for me to figure out whether or not I liked this movie, a difficulty that usually indicates that it challenged me in some way. Expecting a typical adrenaline-infused bloodbath film, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of truly comic moments and the unencumbered message on the harshness of punishment.

Castle as the Angel of Death - In true comic book fashion, the hero, Frank Castle, is an all or nothing kind of guy. His world is black and white, lonely, and beyond the human experience, for better or worse. As a spiritual application, I could find nothing more appropriate for comparison than the Angel of Death. Remorselessly, Castle executes judgment on those who have committed unnecessary evils, punishing them for their sins and for their unwillingness to change. This parallels the task of the Death Angel in the days of Moses and Pharoah, when the Angel executed God’s judgment on Egypt by killing the firstborn male in every Egyptian household (Exodus 11). Cold, hard, lacking feeling and mercy, the Angel of Death mowed down lives across the land with no more thought than we would have while mowing down the grass on a Sunday afternoon. It was just the job that had to be done. That’s the feeling we get from Castle. It’s his duty, his job, his mission, after the wrongful slaughter of his family.

Click to enlargeWhere is the Mercy? The unique thing about this film is that we almost detest the "hero" by the end of the story. The protagonist seems far worse than the antagonist, as Castle brazenly goes beyond “an eye for an eye.” He uses not only his own strength but also Saint’s own vices to ensnare and punish Saint, a nice Biblical touch (Psalm 9:16). However, Castle’s inability to show any level of mercy shakes the foundations of Hollywood filmmaking. Despite his neighbors’ attempts to coax him back to some sense of feeling, Castle remains emotionally dead and beyond reach. There is no lesson, no mercy, no change . . . but perhaps that is the point. There comes a time when punishment must be exacted on the evildoer. Judgment day is real.

Click to enlargeThe Duality of God – The Bible states in many passages that God is both just (Psalm 11:4-7) and merciful (Micah 7:18). A friend and I briefly discussed this concept after the movie, agreeing that this duality challenges our logic. How can a merciful God send the Angel of Death to unrepentant Egypt, persecute countless idolatrous nations, and throw unrepentant sinners into the Lake of Fire on judgment day? Only through his holy nature, which demands justice. How can a just God stoop down to Earth and Himself die a brutal death to give mankind the opportunity to be reconciled and live in peace with him forever? Only through his loving nature, which demands mercy. Both are incredible concepts, but the existence of both characteristics in one being is far more incredible.

Review contiued here


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