I guess it was just a matter of time before the Death Wish franchise was given a reboot. The original movie starring Charles Bronson is over 40 years old. It has 4 sequels that became increasingly ridiculous with each entry. The 1974 movie tapped into the gritty zeitgeist of the 70s. A dark period in American history with the Vietnam War in full effect, the flower power era gone and an all time high in crime. The story about a guy avenging the murder and rape of his wife and daughter by turning into a vigilante and becoming a bit of a folk-hero connected directly with the political climate in the US. The same way First Blood could only have been made in the early 80s. The biggest challenge the Death Wish remake therefor has is whether it can also tap into today’s political climate.
Death Wish revolves around trauma surgeon Paul Kersey. A happily married man with a daughter who just got in the school of her choice. Things could not go better for the Kerseys when a a home invasion abruptly destroys their lives. While Paul is working, his wife is killed and his daughter left for dead. Haunted by this and the fact that the investigation by the police that seems to go nowhere, Kersey decides to arm himself with a gun that fell out of the pocket of one of his ER patients. When he stops a carjacking and basically executes the perpetrators he becomes a viral sensation and people start calling him the Grim Reaper due to the face obfuscating hoodie he wears.
Like in the original Death Wish this is only the start. Pretty soon Kersey is often out at night looking for trouble. When one of the guys behind the home invasion is brought into the E.R. Kersey has a solid lead. But instead of going to the police with it, he decides to track down the people responsible for the murder of his wife and the injuries of his daughter by himself.
Death Wish is at its core a run-of-the-mill revenge movie. Revenge movies are basically a genre on it’s own by now, much like slasher movies. To stand out from the crowd you have to offer more than just the basic revenge plot. It could be anything actually: a political message, great cinematography or a murdered dog. That’s why everybody has seen John Wick, but nobody remembers the Kevin Bacon movie Death Sentence. Then there are movies like the Kill Bill volumes. Still revenge movies, but made with so much passion and talent they were instant classics upon their release.
The Death Wish remake will probably become another Death Sentence. The movie tries to tap into the current media landscape where anybody and anything can go viral in just a matter of seconds. But is has no real impact on the story and it’s mostly played for laughs. When the detective investigating the first Grim Reaper murder he asks the girl who made a video not to post it online her response is “I uploaded that shit hours ago. I’m getting hits like a motherfucker”. We live in the golden age of Facebook live streams.
There is also a continues commentary by radio and television hosts on whether or not the Grim Reaper character is a hero or not. Much like today’s news stations which all have 24 hour programs with talking heads giving their opinion on whatever is the hot topic of the day.
But Death Wish does have a political message that is worth mentioning. It’s basically an NRATV movie. Much like that channel propagates the message of the NRA with programs like “Love at first shot”, Death Wish is 100 minutes of NRA propaganda. After the funeral of his wife Kersey travels back with his father in law to the ranch he owns. Upon arriving he finds a couple of poachers are killing a deer. He immediately grabs his gun and starts shooting at them. When they manage to run off he delivers a whole speech about how the police are never in able to get somewhere on time and that a man must be able to protect himself. It’s as much on the nose as the central message about faith in a Pureflix movie.
After this little speech Kersey decides to buy his first gun and goes to a sporting goods store. Because that’s one way how the availability of guns is legitimized: they’re sporting goods. Not only comes Kersey across the most helpful personnel you can imagine, he and us as the audience are given a detailed explanation of all the steps a person has to take to be able to own a gun. Minor spoiler: not much.
It would have been fun if the whole NRA element would have been given a meta approach. Simply because the of the fact that citizens of a supposedly developed western first world country apparently need to have access to assault rifles in order to feel safe. But Death Wish plays it straight. Kersey is portrayed as a weak person, unable to defend his family. Only when he obtains a gun, does he become a man capable of defending himself and his loved ones. In the original Death Wish Charles Bronson’s Kersey starts out with a panty full of change.
Death Wish also seems to be a comeback vehicle for Bruce Willis, whose career seems to have a Death Wish of its own. It’s been a while since he starred in a big theatrical release. 2014’s notorious flop Sin City: A Dame To Kill For being his last big movie. I don’t think Death Wish will put him back onto the map. His performance is decent, but it’s not really noteworthy. Willis is a larger than life actor. You don’t expect him to perform on a Daniel Day Lewis level. You expect him to act like Bruce Willis. This is a low-key role for him, justifiably since he’s playing a mourning husband. But at certain moments he just seems to be bored. There is little to no fun in his role, but also not in his performance.
Director Eli Roth has achieved a cult status over the years. Mostly due to movies like Cabin Fever, Hostel, Knock Knock and his association with Quentin Tarantino. But to this day he has never made a really great movie. At least in my opinion. Death Wish is his sixth movie and his first non-horror movie. Roth delivers a workman-like production with Death Wish. This movie could just as easy have been made by directors like Simon West or Brett Ratner. There is nothing about the direction that stands out.
Death Wish is a decent remake that is entertaining, but not memorable. I highly doubt it will have the same impact as the original movie did. In fact, the NRA-message this movie provides seems to cater only to the “2nd-amendment” people. With the current wave of school shootings and other gun-related mass murders this movie does not seem to be in touch with the general public opinion that condemns the glorification of guns and violence. As a comeback movie for Bruce Willis, it just seems like the wrong movie at the wrong time.