Release: March 2, 2018
Director: Eli Roth
Screenplay: John Carnahan, based on Death Wish by Brian Garfield
Starring: Bruce Willis as Paul Kersey, Vincent D’Onofrio as Frank Kersey, Camila Morrone as Jordan Kersey, Dean Norris as Detective Kevin Raines, and Kimberly Elise as Detective Leonore Jackson
Reviews Potentially Contain Spoilers. You Have Been Warned.
Paul Kersey is a wealthy, mild-mannered surgeon living in suburban Chicago with wife Lucy and daughter Jordan. One night, while Paul is working, three masked men break into his home. In the ensuing robbery, Lucy is killed and Jordan violently assaulted and left in a coma. After a visit with detective Kevin Raines leaves Paul frustrated at the pace of the investigation, he decides to a bit dabbling in vigilantism. After an unarmed and unsuccessful first night, he goes to procure a gun. After finding the local firearms shop to be rather heavily surveilled and the process of legally procuring a gun too bureaucratic and tracked, Paul has a stroke of luck at the hospital. An injured gangbanger is brought into the trauma ward and a Glock falls off of his corpse unnoticed by the other doctors. Paul prevents a carjacking, and a video of the event goes viral, turning him into something of an anonymous celebrity dubbed “the grim reaper.” The next day, an injured man is brought into the hospital wearing Paul’s watch. Paul pilfers the man’s cell phone and uses it to obtain his first lead. One by one, he picks through the men responsible for his wife’s death, executing them in various grizzly ways.
Death Wish is a slick, over the top, modernized remake of the 1974 Michael Winner film that famously starred Charles Bronson as architect turned vigilante Paul Kersey. Of course, it hits many of the same beats as the original, but injects copious amounts of Eli Roth’s signature over the top gore. One particularly gruesome scene comes to mind where one of Kersey’s marks gets struck on the head by a bowling ball, stumbles forward and gets accidentally shot through the roof of the mouth. In another stand out sequence, a man is crushed with a car in what ends up resembling a very visceral take on the age old meeting of boot and ketchup packet.
The acting is serviceable. It’s a bit hammy at times, but it’s an exploitation film, so it works in the context. Bruce Willis makes a pretty good Paul Kersey. He’s not quite as charismatic as Bronson in the role, but he’s got the right look for an aging vigilante and he doesn’t look like he’s uncomfortable wielding a firearm like so many modern wannabe action stars. Dean Norris does well as Kevin Raines, the detective investigating Lucy’s murder and later also tracking Paul’s exploits as “the grim reaper.” By far the weakest link was Camila Morrone as the daughter Jordan. She veers between serviceable and downright irritating. Thankfully, her character spends most of the movie in a coma.
This movie was something of a small controversy. I read myriad articles decrying it as pro gun propaganda, racist, and alt right. I didn’t find it particularly pro-gun. I guess since it wasn’t explicitly anti-gun, it constitutes being an NRA recruitment film in the mind of the petty, joyless virtue signaler. Death Wish was no more pro gun than a movie like John Wick or any other vigilante flick. Also, what racism? It’s set in Chicago, which I guess is a “dog whistle” to the right kind of person, but I didn’t see Willis’ character spend any time in a Klan hood terrorizing the Southside from the back of bed sheet clad horse or cavorting with members of the National Socialist White People’s Party. There was no scene where our intrepid hero secluded himself in a basement typing random people’s names in triple parentheses. So, what alt-right? I suppose in the modern age, where every movie has to be weighted down with Whedon speak, villains aren’t allowed to display any malice, and heroes aren’t allowed to show any real measure of a spine, a movie like Death Wish will just be offensive to some.
If you found that Netflix adaptation of The Punisher wanting, you may enjoy Death Wish. If you’re a gorehound, you’ll probably enjoy Death Wish. Is it as good as the 74 original? No. However, Eli Roth’s Death Wish is a fun revenge story with copious amounts of well rendered gore.