There’s no shame in admitting when something is more than a little…problematic. That’s this Death Wish and then some.
Dr. Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis) is a surgeon who only sees the aftermath of Chicago violence when it is rushed into his ER, until his wife (Elisabeth Shue) and college-age daughter (Camila Morrone) are viciously attacked in their suburban home. With the police overloaded with crimes, Paul, burning for revenge, hunts his family’s assailants to deliver justice. As the anonymous slayings of criminals grabs the media’s attention, the city wonders if this deadly vigilante is a guardian angel or a grim reaper.
While I can’t lie about my affection for the original Death Wish with Charles Bronson, I have to admit that I cringed when I heard this was actually going to be a thing as I am hardly a fan of the work of Eli Roth and Bruce Willis is more than a little past his prime as a compelling action star. However this script by Joe Carnahan is the one element of all this that actually makes this Death Wish into something that tries to be competent and doesn’t devolve into a grotesque revenge fantasy piece.
When Roth was announced as director for this remake of a cult classic it felt like this could have easily descended into a disgusting exercise in vengeance porn. He’s not the strongest director as so much of the film feels poorly assembled and even kind of disjointed. However thanks to the strong script from Joe Carnahan (who could have probably directed this better in his sleep) stays fairly true to the source material and resists the temptation to turn this into something that is all the way about a pissed off Bruce Willis who wants revenge for what happened to his family. It’s not necessarily about a sick need for revenge or for the thrill that his character feels it’s about the need to balance the scales as a man who did everything right but almost had everything taken away from him.
Unfortunately though, try as he might, Willis is often unsuccessful in giving a broken family man who has come to embrace the need for violence to allow him a degree of emotional release about the tragedies that he has faced. He’s a reasonably competent leading man but any time he tries to genuinely emote it looks like he’s faking it and takes us straight out of the story. We get bounced around from him as a traumatised family man to bad ass vigilante at a rather uneven and very unsatisfying clip. Ironically enough the two main actors that he shares the screen with could have done a better job with the material then he did as Vincent D’Onofiro plays the mood swings of frustration a hell of a lot better than Willis did and even the consistently underrated Dean Norris who plays the beleaguered detective on his families case could have brought more genuine pathos to the role that Bruce did.
While there is the obvious pro gun lobby slant that will lap the aspect of a man defending himself against the violence in the world it does at least try and balance the ever continuing debate about the free will of the individual and if they should take the laws of their nation in their hands.
Ultimately, Death Wish is an ill timed mess of a movie considering the mass shooting events and protests that are happening at a seemingly daily clip in the United States, but with some better storytelling at the helm it really didn’t have to be.
- Release Date: 3/2/2018