Death Wish V: The Face of Death

Death Wish V: The Face of Death

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Why Mr. Kersey? Why do you keep on trying to have a normal relationship with a woman when for twenty years now every woman you had an onscreen relationship with, save for the reporter in Death Wish 2, has been raped and/or murdered? Hooking up with you is a death sentence to these women and often also to their daughters. Yet you keep on getting romantically involved with women. You are a bad person Mr. Kersey. My advice to you would be to start living a secluded life, but I’m sure that even living remotely, deep within the woods you will come across people murdering the squirrel you feed every day leaving you to no other choice that to pick up a gun since the authorities have no grounds for prosecution.

Death Wish V is yet another Death Wish movie with a subtitle, a trend that started with the 4th entry in the everlasting Death Wish franchise. The subtitle is “The Face of Death” and is a clear reference to the Charles Bronson who no only is the face of death to a lot of bad guys in the movie, but at 73 years old actually has one himself, even though he tries to hide his age by clearly having done some plastic surgery.

In Death Wish V Kersey is living in witness protection. It’s not made clear as to who and why, but at this point there is hardly any logic and consistency to the way cops handle Kersey’s vigilantism. One minute they’re trying to catch him, the next they’re shooting up bad guys side by side. The first movie might have been a movie with a firm political message, the rest are all violent exploitation action movies with a progressively aging movie star.

The target of Kersey’s vigilantism this time are mobsters. The woman he’s dating is a fashion designer but her ex-husband is a mobster who is deeply involved in her business. After Kersey persuades her to go the D.A. to become a witness, she becomes a target resulting in her death and giving Kersey once again a reason to pick up arms. In the original Death Wish it was all about how the police were unable to catch all the rapists, muggers and murderers roaming the streets. In Death Wish V the target is a more sophisticated criminal i.e. a criminal who actually has the financial resources to buy off government officials and men who will take out witnesses for him. This gives Kersey a moment he can deliver his right wing view on the flawed system: “These people, they steal, they murder, they destroy people’s lives and they get away with it! They have alibis, money, lawyers, power. They have everything.”
Up to a certain point he’s right: the more money you have, the better lawyer you can buy. Rich people always seem to get off easier than poor people. Justice maybe blind, but not deaf to slick talking lawyers who happen to cost a lot. But that is as far as the political ambitions of the Death Wish V script goes, since it’s more interested in pleasing the people who want to see Charles Bronson shooting up people once again.

In previous movies it was sometimes questionable if Kersey was doing the right thing as he had no problem executing purse snatchers. To him everything everything warranted a death sentence. Have you ever stolen a candy bar? Be lucky Paul Kersey didn’t see it or else you would end up with a bullet in your back. In Death Wish V the bad guys are all violent mobsters making it easy for the audience to root for Kersey.

It’s a tried an true formula which has been keeping Bronson’s career alive for two decades now. This installment doesn’t change much to the core, though there are some notable changes in style, tone and approach to the material. This is the only Death Wish movie that doesn’t have a rape scene and the actual murder of Kersey’s love interest Olivia (Lesley-Anne Down) takes place 45 minutes into the 90 minute movie, making it a two-act movie consisting of 45 minutes of set-up and 45 minutes of execution(s). Even though there is no rape scene, Death Wish V has a lot of gratuitous nudity. In the previous movies the nudity felt awkward and vile as it always went together with violence directed towards women. Seeing a couple of boobs on screen always pleases me as a man, but it leaves a bad taste in my mouth when the woman in question is in a violent situation. Death Wish V has nudity displayed in a neutral or positive sense; women backstage undressing or having consensual sex. It makes all the difference.
The previous Death Wish movies all took place outside mostly, often in remote locations, but outside. Even though the neighborhood in Death Wish 3 felt like a giant sound stage, it still maintained an illusion of taking place outside. In Death Wish V most of the action takes place indoors, the main recurring setting being the office/factory where Olivia runs her business. It generates the idea that this installment had the lowest budget of all the movies in the series, which it probably had.
They did however change the way Kersey takes his opponents down. After the exploding wine bottle in Death Wish 4, the have him go after the mobsters like a true slasher icon; killing everybody in a different creative way. He adds cyanide to a mobster’s canoli, suffocates one by wrapping him in cellophane and uses a remote control footbal filled with a bomb to blow one up. Freddy and Jason should start taking notes when watching this movie.

Charles Bronson brings nothing new to the role, but he isn’t given much. His Kersey was always a character of few words and those words were always about his lack of faith in the judicial system or a sly remark. It’s the same this time around, he phones his lines in. The scenes between him and the woman he loves are still as awkward as ever featuring not only wooden dialogue but also a firm age difference.
Death Wish V contains a few familiar faces, mostly from TV and B-movies. Saul Rubinek and Miguel Sandoval are two names that might not ring a bell, but their faces sure do. The mob boss is played by Michael Parks, a character-actor who appeared in multiple Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith movies. He makes for a menacing character and a guy you just love to hate.

Death Wish V feels a bit like it’s too little, too late. A 73-year old action star is just not that convincing, though Bronson does give it his best try in terms of physicality. It’s still an entertaining flick, but it brings nothing new and actually feels a bit like it was made for TV. It has some redeeming elements but it’s a small step down from the previous entry. On a scale of 0 to 10 I would give this a 5,5, but since I have a five star rating system I’m going to round that number to three stars.


Death Wish V: The Face of Death (1994) poster
Death Wish V: The Face of Death (1994) poster
Death Wish V: The Face of Death
  • Year:
    1994
  • Director:
    • Allan A. Goldstein
  • Cast:
    • Charles Bronson
    • Lesley-Anne Down
    • Michael Parks
    • Chuck Shamata
  • Genres:
    Action, Crime, Drama, Thriller
  • Running time:
    95m

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