DEATH WISH (2018)
Director: Eli Roth
Cast: Bruce Willis, Vincent D'Onofrio, Dean Norris, Camila Morrone, Elisabeth Shue, Kimberly Elise, Beau Knapp, ELen Cariou, Jack Kesy, Ronnie Gene Blevins
MPAA Rating: (for strong bloody violence, and language throughout)
Running Time: 1:47
Release Date: 3/2/18
Review by Mark Dujsik | March 6, 2018
As it turns out, director Eli Roth can be completely non-provocative if he so chooses. Strangely, he has chosen that route in his version of Death Wish, an adaptation of Brian Garfield's novel and a remake of the Michael Winner's 1974 movie starring Charles Bronson. That movie had the same premise, of course, but it was provocative—about politics, about morality, about justice.
The protagonist in the original movie had to morally adapt to becoming a vigilante killer—going around New York City, luring in would-be criminals, and enacting his own brand of punishment with a pistol—after decades of eschewing violence. In Roth and screenwriter Joe Carnahan's version, the protagonist is apparently a pacifist, as we learn from one scene involving a loudmouthed soccer dad. Once he gets a taste for vigilantism, he becomes giddy on it (or at least as giddy as the movie's sleepy star allows himself to be).
Whether or not one liked what the original movie had to say (It's slightly terrifying that there are those who do), there was some debate about the character's actions within the movie, and it seemed legitimate enough. Here, we get a series of talking heads and audio clips of people taking sides for or against Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis), who becomes known as "the Grim Reaper" for shooting and killing assorted criminals throughout Chicago, but there's never any sense that those debates mean anything. Paul gets the job done. People are saved. He loves doing it. It's that last part that leaves the closest thing to a bad taste in one's mouth.
This version of Paul is more or less a sociopath. There's little to sympathize with about the man and remotely nothing about which to admire. As soon as he gets his hand on a gun, stolen from a gunshot victim who's brought into the emergency room where he works as a doctor, Paul is target shooting in an isolated location, watching online videos about how to care for and handle his gun, and preparing to go on the hunt—not necessarily for the men who killed his wife (played by Elisabeth Shue) and critically injured his daughter (played by Camila Morrone), mind you. Anyone who looks to be breaking the law will do for him.
The fact that Paul is a doctor in this version adds another strange and semi-queasy layer here. We see him regularly attending gunshot victims (because, as everyone looking to score cheap political points believes, Chicago is only a place where violence occurs). He knows firsthand what these weapons can do, yet he's more than happy to cause that kind of destruction to another human body. The movie, of course, sets it up in such a way that Paul only kills criminals in the act of committing a crime. The very thought of an innocent man, woman, or child being caught in the crossfire would destroy the movie's illusion that Paul's actions are, not only effective, but also sound. Forget the fact that he's a criminal, too, by any sound definition of the term. The movie certainly does.
Those who know the original movie will know the plot to this one. Some burglars break into Paul's home, kill his wife, and put his daughter in a coma. The cops can't find any suspects and eventually stop taking his calls. That's when he goes looking to punish the men who did it and, for fun, any old criminal he encounters on his nightly hunts.
It should come as little surprise that a revenge thriller like this doesn't really care about violence, except as a means for a few action sequences and plenty of blood to splatter around various spaces. Roth, who mostly has offered (really violent, really gory, and really bad) horror movies in the past, obviously loves the carnage here (There's even a scene of surgical torture, almost as a call-back to the torture-based horror that he helped create). A lot of people are shot, naturally, and one guy has his head crushed by a car (We get a brief look at the brain-strewn aftermath).
That's Roth's focus, and the rest of it—as potentially charged with political intentions as it could be—is brushed aside. It's mostly strange that, in this climate of heated debate about guns, Death Wish offers nothing to say (Considering how it ends, the movie does offer a likely unintentional counterpoint to everyone who rails about Chicago's "tough" gun laws—which, for the curious, don't exist anymore). It's a mindless, conscienceless thriller on auto-pilot.
Copyright © 2018 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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