Death Wish, 2018.
Directed by Eli Roth.
Starring Bruce Willis, Vincent D’Onofrio, Elisabeth Shue, Camila Morrone, Dean Norris, Beau Knapp, and Kimberly Elise.
A family man becomes a vigilante killing machine when his family is violently attacked by robbers.
Death Wish (remade by gorehound Eli Roth working from a script by Joe Carnahan based on Brian Garfield’s novel) was originally set to release in late 2017 but, much like Season Two of Netflix’s The Punisher, was pushed back for sensitivity reasons as the product would be consumed by the public shortly after a senseless mass shooting. Not much has changed, except that Death Wish will not be delayed again. Say what you will about the idea to resurrect this once Charles Bronson led series from the dead for a new era, the current political climate (never-ending debates regarding gun laws) and the setting of Chicago (the leading city in gun-related deaths) give the proceedings relevancy.
Unfortunately, Eli Roth’s ultraviolent revenge trip adds nothing to the conversation, opting to shrug off Paul’s (Bruce Willis) shell-shocked mental state and the ethics behind vigilante crime fighting in favor of crosscutting segments of various Chicago talk radio figureheads engaging in basic debates about the masked “old white guy” taking the law into his own hands. This may not be a popular opinion, but I genuinely am sick of any and all arguments involving stricter gun control, banning all guns, protecting the Second Amendment of the Constitution, and whatever else discussion has gone on; no one ever gets anywhere in the constant verbal war meaning that yelling at the clouds is probably a better use of one’s time. Still, I recognize value when I see it, and Death Wish contains no substance for those aforementioned topics.
For those unaware, Paul is a well-regarded surgeon in the city of Chicago with a loving wife Lucy (Elisabeth Shue) and daughter Jordan (Camila Morrone) eyeing a college somewhere in New York, and from the prologue it is made clear that he is more interested in saving lives regardless of if they are police officers wounded on duty or the criminals that provoked the incident. He also owns no gun, which quickly changes once his family is attacked leaving his wife dead on arrival at the hospital with his daughter in a coma. It should go without saying, but the surgeon once dedicated to saving lives begins training himself to properly wield a firearm to take lives; call Bruce Willis the good guy with a gun if you must. This also plays right into a unique torture sequence, but that dynamic between surgeon and cold-blooded killing misguided superhero is in need of stronger execution.
To Eli Roth this is all fun and games, an opportunity to conjure up home invasions soaked in blood, elaborate kills that feel more in line with something you would see in a slasher film, and quite possibly display the stupidest police force I have ever seen in a movie as they are unable to come to the logical and easy conclusion as to who the mysterious crimefighter could be. One would assume that the detectives might notice the convenient timing of the vigilante’s appearance and look into the fact that he is never working as a surgeon when these lowlife thugs get put in their place, or maybe I’m just talking crazy. However, looking the other way is the best approach to find any enjoyment in Death Wish; accept it for the gun porn it is and revel in the sight of Bruce Willis dropping a car on top of someone’s head and watching it pop like a balloon. Cheer (just like the audience thunderously did) when he walks up to a gangster in broad daylight (again, how is literally no one unable to identify him) hilariously called “The Ice-Cream Man” and empties bullets into his body.
Although, even trying to have fun with the gritty revenge flick can prove troublesome; for some indefensible reason 95% of the criminals are minorities. The self-aware jabs at how easy it is to acquire a gun in America (Bruce Willis takes a few comedic trips to a satirical weapons store similar to Ammunation the Grand Theft Auto games) feel halfhearted and edited in after recent tragedies to throw criticism in both directions of the political spectrum. And let’s face it, watching a teenage girl fear for her life during a shootout right now is probably the last thing people will want to see, regardless of how the scare turns out. Honestly, an enlightened remake of Death Wish would not place Jordan in a coma, instead, it would give her a real character alongside PTSD in the aftermath of such events. The limited amount of perspective we do get from her is better than anything else in the movie from a narrative standpoint,
Realistically, anyone even remotely familiar with Eli Roth’s body of work will know if Death Wish is for them or not. Rather than use the gun debate as a canvas to make a profound statement supporting either agenda, it chooses to exploit the situation for the sake of violence and macho entertainment. Don’t take Death Wish too seriously and spin it into a political debate, just roll with the throwback 80’s action vibe and mindless carnage. Hey, it is, at the very least, better than the last few Die Hard travesties.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com