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|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E||
dir Jonathan Hensleigh|
scr Jonathan Hensleigh, Michael France
with Tom Jane, John Travolta, Will Patton, Laura Harring, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Ben Foster, John Pinette, Eddie Jemison, Roy Scheider, Samantha Mathis, Kevin Nash, Mark Collie
release US 16.Apr.04, UK 24.Sep.04
Ready, aim, slaughter: Jane
Frank Castle (Jane) is leaving his undercover FBI career to spend time with his family. But on his last job, the son of fierce Tampa crime boss Howard Saint (Travolta) is inadvertently killed. And now Saint and his wife (Harring) send their henchman (Patton) to get revenge, slaughtering the entire Castle family. But Frank survives, and comes back to get even in the most merciless way imaginable. His focussed drive toward carnage is briefly sidetracked when his goofy-fragile neighbours (Romijn-Stamos, Foster and Pinette) befriend him, and when Saint sends two monstrous thugs (Nash and Collie) to finish him off.
Director-cowriter Hensleigh takes time building up the characters, and this is the film's main strength; there's enough subtext to keep us interested through the horrific killings. He also punctuates the film with cleverly funny sequences that add the humanity missing from the driving narrative. And the cast seizes these elements to make their characters much more than cartoons. As Travolta gets increasingly crazed, his character actually becomes more sympathetic in his grief and his uncontrollable rage. Meanwhile, Jane seems to grow more muscly and oiled by the moment, transforming from gruff-but-loving family man into ferocious gay icon. Both are very good, and engage strongly with the excellent supporting cast.
The problem is that we're asked to cheer for one of them to succeed and the other to die! Both employ the same torched-earth tactics, murdering scores of innocent bystanders while saving the most hideous viciousness for the "important" people. The fact that this is considered satisfying for movie audiences is deeply worrying! Because both men are equally amoral criminals. And Hensleigh cannot convince us that there's any difference between revenge and punishment, no matter how hard he tries.
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