Death Wish, 2018.
Directed by Eli Roth.
Starring Bruce Willis, Vincent D’Onofrio, Elisabeth Shue, Camila Morrone, Dean Norris, and Kimberly Elise.
Trauma surgeon Paul Kelsey (Bruce Willis) has devoted his life to saving others. His happy family life is torn apart when his home is burgled, his wife murdered and his teenage daughter severely injured. The police try their best to track down the perpetrators, but Paul becomes frustrated by their lack of progress and decides to take matters into his own hands.
You’ve been wheeled into ER, open your eyes and looking down at you is your surgeon. Bruce Willis. How confident do you feel? Probably not very. But you’re asked to believe in him as an idealistic doctor – and a whole lot more – in this re-boot of Death Wish, a film surrounded by controversy in its first incarnation back in 1975. It hit the headlines firstly because of its vigilante storyline and secondly because of its violence. Fast forward 44 years and, for some unfathomable reason, we have a re-make. Why? Who knows …. It’s a pointless exercise but, worse still, a poor piece of film making that leaves a decidedly nasty taste in the mouth.
With Willis taking matters into his own hands, the system has clearly failed to the extent that such a good and honourable man is prepared to buck the system to get justice. Or should that be revenge? That would be closer to the truth, but the film dishonestly tries to disguise it as justice to get the audience’s sympathy. Yet our “hero” starts out his quest by stopping a car-jacking and killing the person responsible – somebody who has nothing whatsoever to do with what happened to his wife and daughter.
Eventually, though, he does go after his wife’s killers, but only after his first stunt brings him to the attention of the Chicago media and he’s given the moniker The Grim Reaper. All the witness descriptions of him are of a white guy in a hoodie. That narrows things down a bit. Not. But if you were going to cast somebody as the ultimate Mr Nice Guy, the last person on earth you would expect to pick up a gun, let alone kill, Willis wouldn’t be top of the list. With a badass back catalogue from Die Hard onwards, he hardly fits the bill. Director Eli Roth clearly thought otherwise.
All of which is bad enough, but there’s more and this is where the film gets decidedly nasty. In Willis’ position, it would be tempting to turn vigilante, but the knowledge that it’s both wrong and illegal would probably stand in the way. That way anarchy lies. Not that the film cares: it’s patently obvious he’s going to get off scot free, even if the cops do suspect that he’s The Grim Reaper. And his story takes place against a backdrop of Chicago in the middle of a wave of killings, which is used to link the film together in the most perfunctory of ways. Every single death is a shooting, yet the film determinedly ignores any link between them and the ease with which a gun can be purchased. When Willis goes to purchase his first gun, it’s squirm-making: the sales assistant only wants to talk about how the merchandise will “take care of business” and merely goes through the motions with the paperwork. It’s disturbing and alarming in today’s context.
So Death Wish is pro-gun and pro-vigilante. No surprise there, then. It’s not encouraging debate about the issues at its core, but just tells it like it sees it. Ditto. Willis wanders through the whole thing with those glazed eyes, which do nothing for getting the audience’s sympathy. All anybody watching feels is discomfort and dislike to the point of despair. Death Wish isn’t just the title. It’s the coincidental description of how you feel when you leave the cinema afterwards. You’ve just wasted your money on a ticket, as well as the best part of a couple of hours. Just don’t go there.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★
Freda Cooper. Follow me on Twitter.