Death Wish review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Eli Roth’s Death Wish is an ill-timed remake in the era of gun control becoming a more heated topic. It had originally been postponed from its original release date due to the Vegas shooting, but now it unfortunately hits theaters not long after the Florida shooting. Still, I’ll take the film for what it’s worth, but it’s a little hard to keep your politics out of preference with a film such as this. While the political leaning is never outright stated in a long-winded speech or bold statement, Death Wish wears its pro-gun intentions like a tattoo, flexing it with every shot fired.
Bruce Willis now plays the role of Paul, having changed his profession to that of a surgeon and his face to not feature a mustache. Things are not looking good in his home of Chicago where gun violence continues to ramp up with no end in sight. But when he goes home, everything is far more cheery. His wife is finishing a degree and his daughter has gotten accepted into the New York college she wanted. They’re a loving family that have so much fun that the movie makes it blatantly clear something real horrible is going to happen to them. Sure enough, the wife is murdered and the daughter assaulted into a coma after punks break into their house. Anyone who has seen the 1974 Death Wish is aware of this story, but I’ll give Eli Roth credit for ramping down the creepy rape the original scene was known for.
The placement of Paul as a surgeon is also a wise choice, leading to a heartbreaking scene where Paul is working and overhears two women being brought into the emergency room over the speaker. Or at least it would be heartbreaking if Willis could show some emotion. For a handful of scenes where he is required to be forlorn, Willis struggles to embody that persona of a depressed man dealing with death. Let’s just say he’s much more at home playing a snarky action hero. And the movie makes the smart call to go this route, as Paul’s revenge spree on the streets of Chicago turns into a bombastic bloodbath. Bullets pierce body parts, necks are snapped, and brains will spill. Yep, that’s an Eli Roth film for sure.
When the film is going for the more laughable and gruesome scenes of Willis hunting down punks on the street, the film finds its groove of being an ultra-violent bonanza. But then all the fun has to be ruined by the script’s odd need to force the darkness of the situation and the real-world issues. This is where the entertainment value becomes clunky, as though footage of real gang violence were spliced in with cartoon violence. Every now and then the script will bring an important question of copycat vigilantism and how vigilance is a slippery slope, only to be swept under the rug to get back to the action. Why even bring it up then? It’s very clear this film can’t make any points about gun violence past its eye-for-an-eye mentality that’s fun for entertainment, but not for an actual debate.
And if you really don’t dig the NRA right now, this is certainly not the film for you. Death Wish LOVES guns, to the point of amping up the gun store with a perky blonde that will cheerfully hand you a sign-up form and dismiss the gun safety classes as easy formalities. Paul’s vigilantism has no consequences, or at least none that he cares to address. When he finally kills the last bad guy who murdered his wife, the city is safer somehow after Paul decided to become a gun-toting superhero. And the insertion of Willis’ snarky jokes on his goofy kill frenzy feel like they’re from an entirely different film. This is no Taken, a film that managed to find a balance of tongue-and-cheek and real-world distress. This film is more like a sloppy stitching of a sorrowful tale of losing a loved one and a joke-cracking comedy picture of blood and bullets.
Death Wish is a film that I could really only see appealing to aged Middle-American that have a dream of America being like the wild west, where one good man can go out and kill some gangsters and everything will be solved. It has all the traits: an emotionless lead who becomes the hero, a hard-nosed detective that thinks gluten-free foods are for losers, and a soundtrack of classic rock to make any out-of-touch old-timer believe its 1979. You know which audience this is for. And I would’ve been with them if only the film didn’t feel the need to dance around the subject of what to be done with gun violence, dipping its toes in just enough so that it relates to events of the real world, but doesn’t want to say anything about them. I’m almost thankful the barrel jams before any clumsy pro-gun rant can be made, but the fact that it even tried to fire in the first place doesn’t make it any better.