Review: Death Wish

This is going to be strange. Why? Because I generally don’t get requests to do reviews.

However, JD Cowan asked me to review this one when this was in theaters…

My fiancee made me sit all the way through Tomb Raider … you may have read that review.

Equally odd … because I have never really been a fan of the Death Wish series. I don’t really have anything against it, I just hadn’t seen many of them no TV, nor did I ever go out of my way to watch them.

But when the Death Wish remake came out, I went out of my way to watch the original with Charles Bronson…. it was okay. It seemed a little … dated? It was very slow. Though it was an interesting look at a really young Jeff Goldblum.

Fast forward to the modern remake.

Dr. Paul Kersey (Willis) is a surgeon with a loving wife and daughter. He lives in Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive in 2016, during the spike of 90-kills a week, and 40 on a weekend. When he is called away to surgery, his wife and daughter are attacked in their own home. His wife is murdered, and his daughter left in a coma. Inspired by his Texas father-in-law, Kersey steals a gun from a gangbanger in his own ER, and starts to practice. It’s clear at this point in the film (about 40 minutes in) that he’s going to use it for some less-than-legal purposes, he still takes his time, builds up his skills … mostly by watching YouTube videos. And after interrupting a car jacking and saving a boy from the corner street dealer (the Ice Cream Man… yes, really) he starts hunting the men who attacked his home. And we’re off to the races from there.

I like this film. I really do. Like the original, this one took its time. I think Bruce Willis waits a whole 45 minutes before killing anyone — which is a long time in a Willis action role. There is so much time spent building up the characters and establishing a rapport with them, it was strange — I actually gave a damn about what happened with these people.**

Unlike the original, this one doesn’t spend long elliptical moments spent on nothing, but it also doesn’t rush. Also unlike the original, this one had a plot.

Yes, I said it. Charles Bronson’s Death Wish was an anatomy of a man as he goes from a nonentity to being a vigilante with a taste for hunting the wild criminal through the streets of 70s New York. Bruce Willis is a father who has learned the art of self defense, and goes hunting the people who murdered his family — killing a few other criminals along the way. And yes, he does seem to have a taste for it.

Somewhere around killing “the Ice Cream Man,” this Death Wish almost feels like The Fugitive for the dark side.

And frankly, while this one moves faster, it may have a lower kill count (I think Willis killed only 8, while Bronson killed at least that many) and I think it did their social commentary better. Yes, really. It felt really weird laughing in the middle of this film at “a vigilante in the age of social media,” with the talking heads of the radio arguing about the morality of the situation, and coming up with … a shrug.

You know how odd this film is? I even liked the directing. And I generally don’t care about camera angles and panning shots. But this one used a lot of nice camera techniques that surprised me — hell, I’m surprised I even noticed them.  Now,I don’t know Eli Roth from a hole in the ground (I think he does horror films?) but I can’t complain about his directing technique. I’m certain he’s spent some time looking at Hitchcock films — it’s definitely clearer in the first hour than in the later segments, but Roth still has them sprinkled throughout. Though Roth does like a good Chekov’s gun … several of them.

And it’s so nice to see a film where gun owners aren’t branded as nut cases, just enthusiastic.

Let’s go over the acting a bit.

Bruce Willis … was allowed to act. He isn’t doing John McClain here, nor is he doing his more recent routine of devolving into self-parody. There are some moments where I felt like he should have put more effort into the emotional bits, but that slack is picked up by some of the other actors.

Vincent D’Nofrio … it a great character actor. As usual. And it was amusing to see him as Bruce Willis’ brother, as they have similar hairlines.

Dean Norris, as the investigative cop … I don’t know, there’s something about having Chuck Norris’ brother in a Death Wish film that strikes me as funny. Also, the interactions between him and our main character felt a lot more real here than it did in the original.

Granted, really, the only thing I think needed work in this movie may have been the development of the bad guys … but I don’t think that interfered with the plot at all.

Overall, really good. Give it 7/ 10. Good movie. Recommended.

**Sigh. Yeah, I feel I gotta look at the original. Look, it’s a really good snapshot of the mood of the era: screw “the man,” who needs the cops?, and still thinking that Kitty Genovese was really left to die without anyone calling the cops (it’s a myth, from what I can tell). The ending was more about how the cops “just want this all to go away,” and rather than addressing the crime, or the situation. Here, it’s more about making certain all of the right people are in the ground, and that the vigilante killing stops. But wow, do I not care about anybody in that movie. Everyone feels lifeless while we have long shots of very little — I would call them ponderous, but it doesn’t really ponder anything. It tries to be deep and go into vigilantism, but honestly? It didn’t work. 

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