The specific reason for why he pulled out of the movie was ever explicitly revealed, but from the old news at AICN it seems that you can lay the blame on the script.
The timeline goes something like this:
December 2006: Stuart Beattie is announced as the writer for the next Punisher film. Beattie wrote the very well done Collateral and was involved in the Pirates of the Caribbean films. At the time Jane stated that he wanted the film to be a serious drama, without any goofy stuff in it.
Early April 2007: Kurt Sutter comes on board as a writer for the film. His description of Castle as “a complex, tortured badass” sounds like a good take on the character. Gale Ann Hurd and Avi Arad are mentioned as being producers on the film.
Late April 2007: Jane says that they’re waiting on the completion of the screenplay and that they’re hoping it’s really good. At this point he anticipates filming to begin in June.
May 2007: This is when Thomas Jane announced that he wouldn’t be doing the film, stating that he wouldn’t spend months of his life sweating over a movie that he just doesn’t believe in. There was no director attached to the film yet and the rumour was it was due to how bad the first movie was and that the script was lousy.
June 2007: Lionsgate finally finds a director for the film: Lexi Alexander is announced as the woman who will be helming the new Punisher movie.
July 2007: Ray Stevenson is announced as the guy who will put on the skull t-shirt.
August 22, 2007: The director talks about pre-production on her blog, waxing poetic about Ray’s acting ability and his dedication to the martial arts training for the film – and Ain’t It Cool News goes all gooey in the knees.
There has been virtually no talk about the script since Thomas Jane left the film, and Kurt Sutter, the guy who wrote the screenplay that preceded Jane’s exit is still listed as one of the writers of the movie over at IMDB. Also listed as writers for the film are Matt Holloway, Arthur Marcum and Nick Santora. Matt and Arthur are writers of the upcoming Iron Man movie and Nick has done writing for the TV show Prison Break which I would think qualifies him as a writer of gritty material.
So here’s what I’m wondering: Has the script been completely overhauled since Jane left the production? Is that why folks with better connections than I have are doing a happy dance all over this thing? Everyone is focusing on the actor, but a great actor alone does not make for a great movie. If the script is the same then what’s all the optimism about?
I’ll tell you what it’s about: I’m guessing that it’s no longer the same script that had been penned by Sutter alone.
Now I have absolutely nothing against Ray Stevenson – I’d never even heard of the guy before the announcement related to this movie… but if it turns out that the screenplay has been completely rewritten, then Thomas Jane has gotten one of the worst cases of shafting that I’ve heard of in Hollywood.
It would mean that his show of integrity in refusing to be involved with a film that he saw as being crap – was a wake up call to the studio regarding how bad the movie was going to be. If that was in fact the event that caused them to re-examine the screenplay and bring in new writers, then the fact that the studio dropped him for a new actor really, REALLY sucks and I feel for the guy.