“Death Wish”  (2018)

Thriller/Action

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Running Time: 107 minutes

Written by: Joe Carnahan

Directed by: Eli Roth

Featuring:  Bruce Willis, Vincent D’Onofrio, Elisabeth Shue, Dean Norris, and Kimberly Elise

Ben: “People rely on the police to keep them safe. That’s the problem. The police only arrive after the crime has taken place. That’s like. Trapping the fox as he’s comin’ out of the hen house. If a man really wants to protect what’s his. He has to do it for himself.”

Remakes are nothing new in the Hollywood tradition, in fact these days they take many forms in reboots, sequels, prequels as well as faithful remakes from original sources, not only that they are not limited to film but can be transplanted to the small screen as well. They are so common that almost every week there is some kind of reworking released online, on television or in cinemas. Of course, it goes without saying that many are cheap imitations or flounder in the packed environment falling by the wayside, it takes something special to rival an older work or even surpass it especially if that original was any good or beloved. In the case of this week’s new release “Death Wish” (2018) which is a remake of Michael Winner’s “Death Wish” (1974) featuring the rugged Charles Bronsan as the husband who wrecks revenge on New York street criminals after a brutal assault on his daughter and the murder of his wife. This seemed to be ripe for a remake especially in the crazy gun culture we now find ourselves in. It would seem that in skilled hands this new remake would be able to make some kind of comment on not only society forty years later but also the way in which the world has changed, how far people are willing to go to protect their families as well as a variety of other issues that have arrived on our doorstep. Whilst gun control in most countries is a no brainer it is the US that has an inordinate amount of not only gun crime but violence within its borders. So how does this new remake measure up?

This new movie is a pale comparison to its forbearer in many respects, which is unfortunate as the original has not aged well, especially in terms of the fact that there were four sequels made that have devalued the original in many ways. This new movie transplants the action from New York to Chicago where there are extreme amounts of shootings as well as record numbers of murders involving guns. What is apparent from the beginning is that all the social reasons for such violence as well as the overwhelming number of shootings by African Americans are completely ignored in favour of a revenge movie with little moralising or solutions to the epidemic that proffers the advice that it is better to add to the violence than reduce it – surely one of the reasons that gun crime is so prevalent. As film-makers I would have thought that it would be one of the aims of a film like this to investigate the reasoning behind so much violence, seeing people grapple with issues of loss as well as options that are available to people in terms of the results of such crime – none of that is present here.

This new movie is directed by Eli Roth who made his name in the horror genre helping create a sub-genre known as ‘torture porn’ with his two creations “Hostel” (2002) and “Hostel 2” (2005), he also has made a cannibal horror in the troubled and lambasted “Green Inferno” (2012) – I believe these roots are present here. This new movie “Death Wish” could be said to be a pre-cursor to his own movies in that elements of revenge as well as brutal violence and torture appear in both. Roth is not the most gifted or subtle director working today, he does seem to feel the need to leave everything onscreen with little value in examining the possible themes that may be involved in his work. It is a shame then that he had the possibility of breaking free of his own oeuvre to bring to the screen what could have been a special movie that came at the right time, socially  – with record numbers of shootings in the US as well as being set in Chicago a city beset by crime. There is only one screenwriter credited, that is action director/writer Joe Carnahan who it seems was a writer for hire and in terms of a remake this is a perfectly acceptable update, but the nuance really had to be driven by the director, who it appears has no real interest in creating something that people would want to see or want to discuss – which is one reason this movie disappeared from cinemas so quickly as well as making no real impact in any international market.

The movie revolves around Paul Kersey, who lives with his wife Lucy and college-bound daughter Jordan, works as a trauma surgeon at a Chicago hospital. During the Kerseys’ lunch, Paul gives the keys to his car to a valet, Miguel, who secretly takes a picture of their home address from the car’s navigation software. Later, while Paul is working late at the hospital, three masked men invade the Kersey’s home. Jordan and Lucy are both shot and Paul learns at the hospital that Lucy died and Jordan fell into a coma.

In another decade having Bruce Willis as the main character in a movie would have meant something far different than it means in 2018, especially with the sub-par movies he has been appearing in for the past ten years. Sure, Willis has still been in some good movies but mostly as a character part, cast for his persona rather than any real talent or draw, the only real exceptions being the 2010 action flick “RED” (2010) and the fantastic Sci-Fi “Looper” (2012) – although in the latter he was playing third fiddle. Willis in “Death Wish” is definitely phoning it in, this movie just does not measure up to even the performance the stoic Bronsan gave forty years ago which again is a real missed opportunity for the narrative of the movie. The supporting cast would normally be great in any other movie, with Vincent D’Onofrio, Elisabeth Shue, Dean Norris, and Kimberly Elise are all at least attempting to play to the strengths of their previous roles as well as the type of characters they are portraying. Unfortunately, they all come off one note as the material is not only derivative but reductive as well with all the roles being not only typical but archetypical as well as unimaginative, copies of better characters in much better movies.

The revenge genre is one that has been in existence for decades with far better examples than this or even the original it is based on. If you want a more recent example which is far better try watching “The Brave One” (2007) with Jodie Foster or the older and much more low budget “I Spit on your Grave” (1978). Both of these movies are not only more original but are also more realistic as well as being from a female point of view which is by itself far more relevant than both “Death Wish” movies. The most problematic part of this entire movie is the racial violence that is involved with African Americans as well as Hispanics seen as not only the ‘other’ but as the enemy and the villains of the piece. This is all without the requisite background on the disparity in wealth between cultural groups or the racism that exists within every community – even though in one aspect Willis is seen ‘broing’ it up in one scene then brutally gunning people down the same people in the next. There is also the issue of violence carried out in others names as well as the fact that we see, not only in this movie mind you, that revenge is an acceptable act if you feel bad enough. My opinion on this movie is one that is based on social realities and not some kind of escapist fantasy that surely by now we have moved past. The problem of this being escapist is that it is set very much in a real world with real people – even the parts where we see real radio personalities commenting on what is happening is absurd as well as placing this movie in a real setting – something that is far more dangerous than you might initially think.

The revenge genre is one that has been in existence for decades with far better examples than this or even the original it is based on, if you want a more recent example which is far better try watching “The Brave One” (2007) with Jodie Foster or the low budget “I Spit on your Grave” (1978). Both of these movies are not only more original but are also more realistic as well as from a female point of view which is by itself far more relevant than both “Death Wish” movies. The most problematic part of this entire movie is that racial violence that is involved with African Americans as well as Hispanics seen as not only the other but as the enemy and the villains of the piece without the requisite background on the disparity in wealth or the racism that exists within the community – even though in one aspect Willis is seen ‘broing’ it up one scene then brutally gunning people down in the next. There is also the issue of violence carried out in others names as well as the fact that we see, not only in this movie mind you, that revenge is an acceptable act if you feel bad enough. My opinion on this movie is one that is based on social realities and not some kind of escapist fantasy that surely by now we have moved past. The problem of this being escapist is that it is set very much in a real world with real people – even the parts where we see personalities commenting on what is happening is absurd as well as placing this movie in a real setting – something that is far more dangerous than you might initially think. The reason being is that means the actors, production and the studio are making a statement in reality, that revenge and taking the law into your own hands in a violent way is perfectly acceptable – however you should make your own mind up, mine has been.

If you are wanting to watch an entertaining Bruce Willis movie with action, suspense and thrills then you should revisit the ‘Die Hard’ franchise which is still entertaining all these years later. I would not recommend “Death Wish” at all, I was not only bored but found myself making fun of it not long after it started, it is one of the worst movies I have seen in a long time and definitely is the worst movie I have seen this year. This is the kind of exploitative movie that should make everyone involved embarrassed for thinking something like this belongs in 2018 – if it was reframed or had some dense themes there would be a credit to having made it, but alas there is none so please watch something else.

“Death Wish” is out now on DVD & Blu-ray.

 

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