Tag Archive: Ben Foster

ImageThe Punisher is one of Marvel Comics’ most popular characters. Introduced in 1974, the Punisher was unlike the Marvel and DC superheroes of that time. An antihero vigilante, the Punisher uses murder and torture to dispose of his enemies, methods that most superheroes are against using. In the world of comic books, the Punisher was unique for a long time before the publishers decided to capitalize on his popularity and reimagine other superheroes such as Batman as more dark and violent. However, in the world of Hollywood, characters like the Punisher are a cliche. This type of character has existed since the days of Charles Bronson’s DEATHWISH and Clint Eastwood’s DIRTY HARRY films. Successfully translating the Punisher cinematically is very difficult to pull off because his origin story doesn’t stand out among the countless tough guy action movies that littered our cinematic landscape in the 80’s and 90’s. To complicate things further, the Punisher’s popularity in the comic books has significantly declined since the early 2000’s. At one time, the Punisher was just as popular as Spider-Man, X-Men and Wolverine. That is no longer true today and so his property value is a shell of what it once was.

In 1989, New World Pictures made a loose adaptation of the Punisher. It starred Dolph Lundgren and not surprisingly, it was an atrocity. After Avi Arad took control of the bankrupt Marvel Entertainment, a whole slew of film adaptations of Marvel’s superheroes came out. This included 2004’s THE PUNISHER, with Thomas Jane this time playing the vigilante. In the film, Frank Castle (The Punisher) is an undercover FBI agent that retires after stopping an illegal arms deal resulting in the killing of Howard Saint’s (John Travolta) son. Saint wants revenge against Castle for the death of his son and so he finds Castle’s whereabouts and sends a goon squad to kill Castle’s entire family, including his wife (Samantha Mathis) and son. Castle barely survives the massacre and reemerges as The Punisher, a vigilante seeking the death of Saint and his family for what Saint did to his own family.

The strange thing about the casting choice of Thomas Jane to play the Punisher is that I was more convinced of his portrayal of the Punisher in DIRTY LAUNDRY, a short film made in 2012 that can be seen here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bWpK0wsnitc, than I was of his portrayal in the 2004 film. Its not that Jane is a bad actor or that he does a poor job portraying the anti-hero. My issue is that I think there were much better casting choices to play Frank Castle than Jane. Frank Castle should look a little less Anglo-Saxon, more beefy, and less of a pretty boy than Thomas Jane. Someone like Jon Hamm. I thought Ray Winstone was a better looking Punisher in PUNISHER WAR ZONE than Thomas Jane, but I have not seen that film so I can’t attest to Winstone’s performance. All in all, Thomas Jane does a decent job playing the Punisher, but I always felt like someone better could have been found. Had we gotten Thomas Jane’s Punisher in DIRTY LAUNDRY, we would not be having this conversation and in light of this, I would be open to seeing Jane reprise his role in another Punisher film.

Another big issue with THE PUNISHER is the fact that the film is set in Tampa, Florida. The city was chosen for budgetary reasons after the film’s budget was reportedly slashed to a fraction of what the filmmakers were initially promised. That is all fine and good, but I cannot imagine the Punisher operating in a tropical/sunny environment. The Punisher has to be set in New York City. He is from there and his family was killed in Central Park. NYC has always been his base of operations and considering that most of the villains he goes up against are mobsters, there isn’t a better location than the grimy, urban jungle that NYC offers.

The Punisher came to be as a result of his family’s massacre. For this film to succeed, we should empathize with Castle’s loss after his family is murdered. In order to do that, we must see Castle interact with his family and basically show him to be a family man. For a 2+ hour movie, not much is shown of Frank Castle interacting with his family. Sure, there is a long scene family reunion sequence that takes place in Puerto Rico where Castle briefly interacts with his wife and son. Furthermore, Castle’s family’s massacre is brutal, especially given how not just his wife and son are murdered, but also his parents and other relatives. The sequence effectively makes you hate the villains and makes you want to see them killed. However, we don’t feel for Castle’s loss as much as we should because not enough time is spent where we see Castle spending time with his family.

Despite the brutal disposal of Castle’s family, John Travolta’s Howard Saint fails to live up to being a compelling villain. Travolta clearly showed up to collect his paycheck, look good in front of the camera wearing expensive suits, and leave. Where is the Travolta from FACE OFF and BROKEN ARROW? Better yet, where is the better actor that should have been cast and the better writer that should have developed a more interesting character? Like I stated before, THE PUNISHER needed to be set in NYC and Castle should have gone up against an entire mob organization. Here, the stakes and challenge don’t feel big enough. Howard Saint’s successful murder of Castle’s family seems to be something he got lucky in getting away with, but once Castle turns into the Punisher, there is no doubting that Castle will handily dispose of him, his family, and henchmen. I wish we could have instead seen the Punisher take on an entire organization like the Mafia or the Yakuza.

One of the bright spots in the film are the supporting characters that live in Frank Castle’s ghetto apartment building. Rebecca Romijn plays Joan, a waitress with a dark past, Ben Foster plays Spacker Dave, a crack addict-looking slacker, and John Pinette is Bumpo, some fat guy who likes to eat and cook. They provide some comic relief in an otherwise bleak film. In the Punisher comic books, the Punisher has an assistant who specializes in high-tech gadgetry, sort of like James Bond’s Q. Here, the Punisher sort of has a helper who works for Saint. The other named characters don’t provide that sort of assistance, but they do provide Castle with emotional support.

THE PUNISHER is the film that could have been. It appears to have been cursed from the very beginning with a mediocre director (Jonathan Hensleigh), a mediocre screenplay (by Hensleigh and Michael France), a low budget, poor casting, and even bad cinematography (from Conrad W. Hall, the son of the legendary and wonderful DP, the late Conrad Hall). Whatever high points THE PUNISHER had for me came from the nostalgia of seeing a favorite comic book character on the big screen, but that was nowhere enough to save this dreck of a film. For anyone else, once you remove his signature skull shirt, THE PUNISHER is virtually indistinguishable from any other B-action movie.

Look, I wasn’t expecting a thought-provoking, dramatic action film that explores the inner psyche of a hitman. I would say giving a Jason Statham movie 2 stars out of 5 is pretty damn good for this type of film. I’m not trying to be elitist about this either because although I may not rush out and see every jock-targeted action movie, I see a good share of these films every year and many of them I do enjoy. These types of movies are pure entertainment. So long as you’re ok with checking your brain at the door and not asking too many questions about the whys and whats of a plotline, you’ll be ok. At the same time, however, I don’t like it when a filmmaker takes too many shortcuts or engages in lazy storytelling to a point where the audience notices it and becomes distracted by it. Considering how much bullshit I am expected to swallow when watching these films, the filmmaker should maintain at least some modicum of plausibility if for nothing else than to extend a little respect and gratitude to his audience for paying to see his movie. THE MECHANIC is the kind of film that tries to pull this off, but it ends up with an uneven result that ultimately left me empty and unimpressed.

THE MECHANIC is a remake of a Charles Bronson film thats about Arthur Bishop, a hitman for hire (Jason Statham). He works for some shady outfit run by Dean (Tony Goldwyn) that contracts Bishop out to kill people. The organization Bishop works for is co-run by Harry McKenna (Donald Sutherland), who is also Bishop’s mentor. When Dean orders Bishop to kill his mentor, Bishop has his doubts at first, but being the professional that he is, he follows orders and kills Harry. Soon after, Bishop meets Harry’s troublemaking son, Steve McKenna (Ben Foster). McKenna has a violent streak in him and he wants to avenge his father’s death. He asks Bishop to teach him how to be like him (NOTE: McKenna has no idea that Bishop killed his father). Bishop reluctantly agrees and trains McKenna and eventually includes him on his assignments. Eventually, Bishop realizes that Dean lied to him about Harry’s betrayal to the organization and that Dean was the real asshole who deserved to be killed. With that, Bishop and McKenna head out to find and kill Dean. I won’t reveal whether McKenna finds out about Bishop killing his father, but given the type of movie this is, it doesn’t take much intelligence to figure the answer to that question.

The biggest problem that plagues this film is inconsistency. For one, no one bothers to explain what this organization is about that Bishop works for. What does this organization do and why do they do it? Considering very little to no information is given about them, I assume it simply hires bad asses like Bishop to kill anyone for a price. Common sense, if such a thing exists in this world, would dictate that the target shouldn’t matter if the price is right. However, I’m sure because Jason Statham doesn’t want to alienate his fan base, there is no way this film would feature a purely cold-blooded killer who would be willing to kill anyone regardless of whether or not the target is a bad person. So instead, we have an organization that seems to hire Bishop to only kill bad people (a drug lord, a Jim Bakker like preacher, and an arms dealer). Thats cop out bullshit! I don’t mind if the Bishop character has a heart of gold when he’s not on an assignment, which he does (he prevents McKenna from killing a car burglar and he gives a hooker a puppy), but it doesn’t make sense that he only goes after shady people. It would have been cool to see this dichotomy in the character where he’ll take any assignment regardless of what kind of person the target is, but at the same time maintain a moralistic private persona. The film tries to present that by having Bishop kill his mentor, but thats not sufficient and I wish we saw more of that.

Although I knew Bishop was going to be presented as an anti-hero who is more hero than not, for once it would have been cool to have created a character that isn’t like everything else we have seen Statham do. We have seen this type of character way too many times and it would have been refreshing to have seen something edgier and harder. What’s wrong with giving us an uncompromising asshole who likes to screw hookers without giving them cute little puppies or who doesn’t prevent a guy from killing an unarmed car thief? Its not mainstream or conventional, but it certainly doesn’t lack originality and interest. The original Charles Bronson version actually presented a more steely killer than the warmer, fuzzier killer played by Statham. In contrast, Statham ends up being a nice guy you want to have a couple of beers with, which is NOT what a contract killer should be. However, the film does salvage a little bit of what the character promised to be with the same ending that’s contained in the original version.

A welcome character in the film is the McKenna character played by Ben Foster. I was actually a little surprised Foster decided to be in this film after his impressive performance in 2009’s THE MESSENGER. I’m going to assume he did this film to earn an easy paycheck. Regardless of what his intentions were, Foster infuses the film with a little energy and unpredictability that nicely complements the action heroism of Jason Statham. There is one particularly impressive scene where McKenna is sent out on his first solo mission and he takes on a gay hitman. Its one of the best scenes in the film and thats partly due to Foster’s delivery.

Most people who go out and see THE MECHANIC are really not going to give a shit about the story or the acting. When you get right down to it, this film is all about whether it can deliver the action and its the one thing it successfully pulls off. I was a little surprised by the level of violence in the film, but it was a welcome surprise. Director Simon West has cut his teeth making Jerry Bruckheimer-esque action films (CON AIR, TOMB RAIDER). West has a music video style sensibility, which is perfect for a Jason Statham action movie. The action scenes in this film are for the most part exciting and not too cliche. West polishes his film with a bright and colorful palette and sets the story in quasi-exotic locales with a kinetic shooting style that complements Statham’s fighting style. My biggest concern when I watch an action film is for it to feel too much like a video game, rely on too much CG, or fail to convey a sense of danger for its characters. If nothing else, Simon West at least avoids falling into any of these traps.

THE MECHANIC isn’t the best Jason Statham movie, but its also not his worst film. It has its moments and the film moves along at a nice and steady pace. Around this time last year I saw FROM PARIS WITH LOVE with John Travolta and compared to that film, this movie is a fucking masterpiece. In the end, however, there is nothing memorable about THE MECHANIC and its pretty much your standard-issue R-rated action picture about a killer with a soft spot.