Review: Death Wish

Long delayed and coming out in possibly the worst time frame it could when even Walmart is limiting gun sales and gun control is a hot topic following the Stoneman Douglas school shooting, the new Death Wish will probably be despised by many and get a hearty “meh, it’s fine” from others.

Bruce Willis steps into the shoes of Charles Bronson as Dr. Paul Kersey, a brilliant ER surgeon with an adoring wife (Elizabeth Shue) and daughter (Camila Morrone) and a lovable schmuck of a brother (Vincent D’Onofrio).  Called in to cover for a sick colleague on his birthday, Paul’s home is broken into by a trio of violent criminals and his wife is murdered and his daughter put into a coma.  Trying to be patient and allow the police to its job, with an investigation led by Det. Raines (Dean Norris) and his partner Det. Jackson (Kimberly Elise), the weeks drag on and Paul decides he has to take the law into his own hands and track down the men responsible, along with any other criminals who get in his way.  The movie doesn’t do anything particularly interesting or different outside the formula established by the Bronson original and the sequels and imitators that came afterwards; Paul trains and kills some random criminals and then tracks down and takes out the three men who broke into his house.  The climactic showdown is weirdly truncated and anti-climactic and the pacing overall is kind of strange; it takes probably about an hour before Paul even gets his first clue about who the trio of criminals even are but then after he does, he tracks them all down quickly and easily.  I also could not pin down what the tone of this movie wanted to be.  At times it seems to want to be a serious action thriller, with sequences like the home invasion being tense and almost horror filmesque (which makes sense coming from Eli Roth) but then other times it seems to want to be a dark comedy, with wacky Rube Goldberg kills and Paul cracking one-liners or montages set to AC/DC.  It also seems to be trying to play up both sides of its social commentary with dueling Greek Choiresque commentary from SiriusXM’s Sway and Chicago shock jock Madcow Mueller debating Paul’s actions and it shows some grisly gunshot wound carnage, as expected from Roth, as if to show the true consequences of vigilantism and gun violence but then guns also save the day and also killing is weirdly therapeutic for Paul.  There’s a really strange scene early on, for example, after Paul’s first vigilante killings where he’s watching viral video of the attack and getting extremely excited by it.  Also as you might expect from Roth, there’s absolutely no subtly, everything is laid out in plain text and heads explode and arteries gush.  I’m really curious what the Joe Carnahan version would have been like. (Carnahan still gets screenwriting credit but was set to write and direct a version with Liam Neeson and Frank Grillo but he left due to creative differences)

Acting wise, no one really has much of anything to do besides Bruce, Elisabeth Shue gets offed early, Camille Morrone is in a coma for most of the movie and Vincent D’Onofrio just sort of hangs out to the side like a sad puppy.  The villains are all pretty generic as well; they are all just variations of violent asshole and the movie tries to setup some sort of bigger conflict between Paul and the ringleader Knox (Beau Knapp) but its half-assed and doesn’t amount to much.  Dean Norris is fine in Hank Schrader mode as he grumbles his way through the investigation with his partner.  The movie looks pretty good, with good use of the Chicago location and some well executed sequences (the home invasion as mentioned above feels like a horror movie but it also builds tension in a solid way) and there’s some grisly but creative kills.

Overall, I can’t quite pin down this new Death Wish.  It probably didn’t even need to be made at all but overall it’s a decent entry in the vigilante genre and Bruce seems to be the most engaged he’s been in while, definitely compared to the DTV schlock he keeps agreeing to appear in.  As far as the tone and social commentary, it’s all over the place and combined with the plotting, it’s just generally unfocused.  You definitely don’t need to rush out to the theater to see this one and there’s been better vigilante media you could watch instead, like Netflix’s Punisher series or movies like Kevin Bacon’s Death Sentence, which is also basically a remake of Death Wish.

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