Tuesday, April 7, 2009

PUNISHER: War Zone and PRIDE & GLORY Two Losers, one deserving, the other not.




"Come on: It can't be that bad?!" I often mumble this question/plea after sampling a brace of bad reviews for a particularly denigrated film. (I now read only the first and last paragraphs of almost all reviews because I've found their mid-sections to be generally bloated with plot points and spoilage.) Two such "Can't be that bads" opened in theaters last fall and promptly disappeared -- until, that is, their recent release to DVD.

Sad to say, Gavin O'Connor's PRIDE AND GLORY, despite a stary cast that acquits itself well under the circumstances, deserved its fate. For a film that claims in its closing credits to honor the courage of New York City police officers, it's a movie about this city's police force with barely a decent officer in sight -- they're all just shades of dark gray and black. As a longtime non-fan of police (I consider them a necessary evil, which like capitalism, must be watched over very closely at all times), I still found this film ridiculous -- filled with appalling coincidences that riddle more holes in the plot that do the police to their many victims.

I generally applaud a film that tries to force its audience to come to terms with the meaning of corruption, and how difficult it is for anyone in power, once started down a corrupt path, to right himself. But this movie keep raising the question only to consistently cop out (no pun intended). The best example comes with a finale (and I am giving nothing away here) that has the chance to let us hear a character or two wrestle verbally with an explanation for how this corruption took root and strangled everything it touched. Instead, the film is happy to simply show us another clichéd scene (as shown below), accompanied by clichéd music, of its characters walking ever so slowly across streets, up stairs and into one of those "power" buildings, as though justice, art or anything else worthwhile were being served here.

PUNISHER: WAR ZONE, on the other hand, was wildly reviled by critics (except, it seems by a few in England) for its darkness, violence and simple-minded plot. Hello? Did none of them sit through The Dark Knight -- whose PG-13 the motion picture ratings board should never be allowed to live down. Punisher, deservedly rated R, provides a welcome dose of revenge served hot. If you've a mind to revel in watching a bunch of creeps get their come-uppance, with some very good action scenes, interesting minor characters, and -- here's the real problem, I suspect -- a slap-down on religion like little you've seen in a mainstream action movie, this Punisher's for you.

The anti-religious feeling is not simply alluded to throughout (a fact, I think, that does not sit well with our guardians of culture), it is also placed front and center twice in the film: once as the villain remarks to an endangered mother and child about praying to your "imaginary friend" and then, later on, in a visual moment that is simply a stunner. As funny as it is shocking, this bracing scene ought to bring atheists and agnostics to their feet cheering. I don't mean to claim any great status for this film, well-directed by Lexi Alexander, with the leading role capably handled by Rome's Ray Stevenson. Still, for what it is -- another dark comic-book hero come to life -- it's nasty, bloody fun. Better, in fact, than the subtler attempt from 2004 that starred Thomas Jane and John Travolta.

4 comments:

GHJ - said...

I don't know Jim. I hated both of these films, especially Punisher: War Zone. I sensed it was trying to have a political slant, but was too idiotic to successfully tie these ideas into the otherwise monotonous, bad story. As for Pride and Glory, the first act isn't bad but once the cliches start rolling in, it's all downhill.

James van Maanen, said...

You're not alone there, Glenn. Most everybody felt similar, I think. I didn't pick up on much that seemed very political in "Punisher." But did you not notice the religion thing going on? At the point of that final shot, around the neon "Jesus Saves" sign, I felt like standing up and saluting! Or did you not last out that far into the film? Maybe the movie just pushed all my anti-religion buttons, agnostic reprobate that I am.

GHJ - said...

Jim - Surprisingly, I did make it the entire way through! The film mentions the Iraq War, deals with certain issues regarding terrorism, but ultimately it's all background fodder for the bloodshed and mayhem. A bit too one note for me. Although it's great you critically consider films that are mindlessly dismissed by most mainstream critics. There are gems buried beneath the negativity, like City of Ember!

James van Maanen, said...

In these come-to-life cartoon movies, current events and concerns are ALWAYS "background fodder for the bloodshed and mayhem," as you quite correctly describe it -- whether in a straight-ahead revenge flick like Punisher, an ersatz "deeply thoughtful" piece of trash like The Dark Knight or an empty and surprisingly boring effort like Iron Man. I guess I am beginning to appreciate the emperor more when he simply admits he has no clothes -- and gets on with the action at hand. The latest Incredible Hulk, managed to do this well, too. All these films seem to imagine that they must give lip-service to topics like terrorism, etc. Punisher did less of it, I thought, except, of course, where that anti-religion angle -- a genuine and welcome addition to the oeuvre -- is concerned. Imagine what might be accomplished if the majority of citizens began placing their trust in things other than a fictitious deity? I believe they actually do this already without admitting it and then use the deity as an excuse not to face things that must be faced -- from the idea that "actions have consequences" to the concept that death needs to be considered and prepared for. I'm probably getting off-target here. But I am glad you at least finished Punisher and understand, I hope, what I mean by its unusual ending. And -- ah, yes -- City of Ember!