REVIEW: Death Wish

April 6, 2018

Director: Eli Roth
Screenplay: Joe Carnahan
Starring: Bruce Willis, Vincent D'Onofrio, Elisabeth Shue, Dean Norris, Kimberly Elise
Runtime: 107 Minutes




Releasing a remake of Death Wish in 2018 is a decision so utterly tone-deaf and reckless in the context of the current social climate. The original 1974 film starring Charles Bronson wasn’t a great film to begin with, criticised and reviled in its day for its active endorsement of violent vigilantism toward criminals against the backdrop of a nation already facing a steeply rising crime rate – an endorsement that actively went against the moral affiliations of the novel upon which it was based.


Remakes of poor or questionable material with the intention of recontextualising the narrative for a new setting or time could work wonders. The sight of a middle-aged white man taking violent revenge on criminals on the streets of Chicago (here shifted from Manhattan) with guns and other arms feels so aggressively determined in by an intention to attract attention that you’d wonder what kind of point was trying to be made – and when the film eventually rolls to its close you’re still left wondering.


Recasting the Paul Kersey role with an astonishingly bored looking Bruce Willis, Kersey is a wealthy surgeon and suburban family man whose wife (Elisabeth Shue) and daughter (Camila Morrone) are attacked at home by burglars (the former is killed, the latter is in a coma), and Kersey takes it upon himself to hunt down the perpetrators with a Glock-17 while feeding his own survivors guilt.


You’d think with such a belligerently attention-grabbing concept that it would have at least something to say about the current state of gun crime in the United States, such as the ability to simply pick up a gun in a store without question, but very little of the supposed commentary makes it through.


It’s all just show and no engagement, acknowledging the NRA, Chicago media and viral news, upmarket gun stores and suburban anxiety but never using it beyond set dressing and justification – made worse by the fact that it trots out black women as passive observers and voices of chanting support as if that pardons any of its content.


The film has been passed between many hands over the years, eventually winding up in the limitedly able hands of director Eli Roth, who extensively rewrote Joe Carnahan’s original draft as a means of exploiting his more splatter friendly antics with overblown bloody and gross-out violence. Even the plausibly interesting idea of him using his surgical expertise to maim and kill people isn’t used properly.


Roth has absolutely no idea what he’s doing here, and it stinks of a film cut to shreds by the studio at the last minute to save face. Entire teased plotlines keep cropping up only to never pay off, music tracks play inappropriately over sequences they have no place in being and there’s no sense of cohesion or tonal consistency between scenes and locations – so like any other Eli Roth film, then.


To get angry at Death Wish and its existence is to give it more attention than it deserves. It’s a boring, meanspirited and brainless piece of forgettable crap that doesn’t want to engage even in the negative sense, made worse by presenting it's empty exploitation with a glossy sheen.


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