The Punisher: Dirty Laundry (a.k.a. #DIRTYLAUNDRY) premiered at the 2012 San Diego Comic Con and made waves for being a fan film starring a Hollywood actor in the comic book role he originated during the first wave of Marvel blockbusters. The set up is sparse, probably to avoid even saying that this is a Punisher film just in case Marvel gets upset by it. (I don’t see why they would, because they’ve been pretty encouraging to filmmakers who use their characters as advertisements.)
Frank Castle wakes up in a rotten part of town run by the terrifying pimp gangster known as Goldtooth (Sammy Rotibi). In the course of five minutes, two hookers and a little boy are waylaid by his violent men. Castle keeps cool. He seems to be keeping a low profile. Has he left punishment behind for good? I guess so. When Big Mike (Ron frakkin’ Hellboy Perlman) offers a sale on whiskey at the convenience store, Castle claims he is six months sober. What’s the point of doing any good in this world? As Big Mike says, take down those goons across the street, and five more will rise up like hydra heads to take their place. Seeing the broken soldier he might become, Castle turns back into the Bad@$$ Samaritan and takes a bottle of whiskey to the bad guys.
WHY YOU SHOULD SEE IT
Director Phil Joanou is no amateur, having directed several features including the film Gridiron Gang starring Dwayne “I’ll save you Fast-Furious and GI Joe” Johnson. That can be his new WWE moniker. I didn’t see Gridiron Gang, but I probably won’t have to, because in this ten minutes we get all the grit and gang we could want.
There are terrific lessons that filmmakers can learn here. First, keep your locations to a minimum, because it keeps the action contained and more suspenseful. It also keeps the budget down. Second, make your style work for your production. Stories of street gangs and realistic fight scenes complement handheld camera work with harsh, washed out colors. It also keeps the budget down. Third, cast Thomas Jane. It also keeps the budget down. Well, maybe not.
However, definitely give your characters strong voices and point-of-view. That’s what screenwriter Chad St. John does well in little time here. If you don’t want to bog down your script with lots of unnecessary dialogue, your conflict is going to be a simple clash of world views. Goldtooth believes he’s in control and invincible. Big Mike believes the bigger social problem is invincible. Frank Castle is caught in the middle. He knows he can stop Goldtooth, but he knows he can’t stop crime for good. The question isn’t whether or not to beat the bad guys. The question is what happens after the bad guys are defeated. Tomorrow there is another street, another gang, another victim to save. You just gotta keep coming back and cleaning the same dirty laundry.
And, boy, does Frank clean up dirty laundry. Armed with just a bottle of Jack, action director Andy Cheng takes credit for the end fight scene, along with five stunt men who each take a bottle and a bullet to the head with conviction. What’s nice is when the smoke clears, it’s the citizens who take back their street. Castle just moseys along and hopes empowered citizens rise to take the place of Goldtooth. There’s a nod and a wink to Mean Joe Green’s Coca-Cola ad from the seventies, which also reveals Castle’s identity just in case you doubted this was a Punisher flick.
This is professional-grade short filmmaking. Yes, the music is obviously the track “Why So Serious?” from Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard’s The Dark Night soundtrack, but it works. It really works.
WHERE YOU CAN SEE IT
Dirty Laundry is available on YouTube. Recommended for mature viewers. NSFW violence and language.