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November 2018

Death Wish

Platform(s): Movie
Genre: Action
Publisher: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)
Release Date: March 2, 2018


Movie Review - 'Death Wish'

by Adam Pavlacka on March 2, 2018 @ 1:00 a.m. PST

A family man becomes a vigilante killing machine when his family is violently attacked by robbers.

The original "Death Wish" is an iconic piece of American cinema that was both subversive and shocking when it hit theaters in 1974. Much of the action is mild by today's standards, but the film itself still stands out. Eli Roth's present-day remake goes through the motions, but fails to deliver the impact of the classic Charles Bronson film.

This time around, Bruce Willis is playing the role that Bronson made famous, though he is a doctor instead of an architect, and the story is set in Chicago, rather than New York, presumably as an homage to the original.

The new film quickly establishes that Paul Kersey (Willis) is an all-around good guy. He's a loving father, a good husband, a caring brother, and so on. Tragedy befalls Kersey's family during a botched robbery, and the good doctor is driven to the extreme to exact revenge when the system failed to bring the perps to justice. Given the premise of the film and the current state of gun violence across the U.S., Roth could have gone a number of different ways with "Death Wish." He could have gone the subversive route. He could have gone for complete ultra-violence. He could have presented a character study of a man pushed a step too far by circumstance.

The problem is that Roth didn't do any of that. He somehow managed to produce a technically competent, but extremely bland film that has a handful of decent action scenes and not much else. It's like the director tried to make the most inoffensive, risk-free, and focus group-tested version of "Death Wish" possible — and succeeded.

Willis dutifully goes through the motions on-screen, yet there is no real emotion behind it. We don't see the visceral reaction that Bronson had when first taking a life, nor do we see any of the joy that Bronson's version of Kersey took. Kersey's whole journey through Roth's version of "Death Wish" isn't a journey at all. Rather, it is a by-the-numbers collection of exposition scenes with a handful of action scenes sprinkled in.

Given Roth's history with horror films, you'd expect him to handle action well, and as individual sequences, the action bits generally work. That much is evident by what you see in the trailer. I just wish that Roth had taken the time to explore the aftermath of those actions on Kersey.

A perfect example is one of the "bad guy" executions in the film. The image of a middle-aged white guy in a hoodie gunning down a black criminal in cold blood could have prompted any number of interpretations. Roth even has real-life talk radio DJs cast in "Death Wish" to provide commentary on this sort of thing. All of the set-up is there, but he fails to deliver. Nothing of substance is even hinted at.

The one shining point in "Death Wish" is Vincent D'Onofrio in the role of Kersey's younger brother. D'Onofrio's scenes are limited, but he makes good use of what he has, showing a range of emotion and concern that feels real. D'Onofrio's character is the only one in the film who actually seems to be reacting to the events around him, versus going through the motions simply because they were written in the script.

With "Death Wish," Roth had a chance to make a career-defining film. He could have taken the "John Wick" approach and gone all action. He could have looked to "Falling Down" and produced a compelling character study. He could have explored the ideas of poverty-driven violence and the "white savior" trope. He could have even gone full NRA booster and championed the idea of a vigilante with a gun. Any of these approaches would have resulted in a better film because it would have been a film that staked a position and stuck to it.

Instead, Roth delivers nothing more than a paycheck for Willis. "Death Wish" fits in perfectly with much of Willis's recent direct-to-video work. It's enjoyable enough when you're at home with nothing else to watch, but ultimately, the film is completely forgettable.

Score: 5.5/10

"Death Wish" is rated R and has a running time of 1 hour and 47 minutes. It is showing in 2-D.

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