Synopsis – Dr. Paul Kersey is an experienced trauma surgeon, a man who has spent his life saving lives. After an attack on his family, Paul embarks on his own mission for justice.
My Take – I have never been a big fan of remakes, mainly as they are rarely good, and end up showing an instant lack of creativity from the industry. Add to that a star and a director, who have been facing a massive career slump for quite some time now, you have a recipe for a disaster. While a remake of the 1974 Charles Bronson classic, which was, in turn, based on a 1972 novel of the same name by Brian Garfield, has been in the works for the better part of a decade, with various stars and directors coming and going throughout the process. However, it did make sense when Bruce Willis stepped into the role of grumpy old tough guy mold Bronson had perfected with five films, over a 20-year period. The end result is exactly what you would expect from a Roth/Willis pairing, an unoriginal yet enjoyable film that drops flashy stunts and CGI for down and dirty shoot outs and while crime shootings are often one dimensional, monotone blowouts, the film manages to add enough updates to the formula to keep the whole premise from being completely stale. Although, the film has been drawing in many negative reviews from professional critics, mainly due to insensitivity to the recent gun violence incident in a Florida school, the fact that film has a 15% critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes versus an 80% approval rating with the audience, goes further to demonstrate how it’s important to separate personal beliefs and biases from political, as director Eli Roth’s film aims to be nothing but a good popcorn entertainment for the weekend. The story follows Dr. Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis), a successful surgeon living in the suburbs of Chicago. While his endless shifts at the hospital interfere with his family life, his caring wife Lucy (Elisabeth Shue), and his young daughter Jordan (Camila Morrone), who is preparing to leave their affluent Chicago home to start college in New York, manage to keep their ideal life floating.
Unfortunately, during one of his absences, their home is invaded and unexpectedly turns violent leaving Lucy dead and Jordan in a coma. Initially a distraught Paul finds little solace in therapy and support from his brother Frank (Vincent D’Onofrio), who is also putting his own life back together, however, when detectives Kevin (Dean Norris) and Leonore (Kimberly Elise) keep coming empty on their promise to find those responsible, Paul, now plagued by both insomnia and frustration by the riding wave of gun violence, picks up a gun and wages a one-man war on crime in the city, hereby gaining the nick name ‘Grim Reaper’, all the while also hunting for the men that attacked his family to exact his brutal revenge. This is your typical revenge story and it plays out exactly how you would expect it to. For the most part it’s a pretty straightforward, conventional storyline that isn’t necessarily original or special, but for what it is, it is a satisfying cinematic experience for those that know what they are getting, and can set their personal biases aside for two hours. For a modern take on this story, the film is more than adequate, even if it doesn’t bring much new to the table. Sure, while watching one would wish that the screenplay, which is credited to writer Joe Carnahan, went further in its political and social commentary than what is present in the final cut. What the film lacks in freshness and depth is made up for by a livelier-than-usual performance from Willis and the best action director Eli Roth has ever shot. The film tackles the idea of vigilantism and whether or not a vigilante is good for the city and as a reboot, it’s a solid retelling of original Charles Bronson classic revenge fantasy. What I found most satisfying is how the film moved at a slow and almost deliberate pace. This was not a run and gun action film like many of the past films Willis has done. His character Kersey is an everyman who decides to take extraordinary measures when he believes the law has failed him. He moves at a steady pace and even in the most frantic moments, moves with the speed one would expect of a man of his years who has only recently fired a gun. Although effective he is at times unsteady with his shorts and actions and his inexperience shows. It’s refreshing to see combat on screen by a character that seemed real vs a polished officer or combat vet. What adds even more thrills, is that the film manages to avoid falling into invincible syndrome, giving some more realistic qualities to our hero so you can relate and potentially get hooked into the suspense. With all this edge, it refreshes the action genre that has gotten stale with their ridiculous antics. In fact, director Roth takes a great hard swipe at ‘gun culture’ types in a couple of the scenes, while at the same time working it into one of the funnier moments in the film. I know no one is going to see this film for its humor, but the film has it anyway. While not straight up laughing, slapstick or one-liners, the film’s comedy comes more from the pokes at society this film portrays. Primarily aimed at the media blowing up articles into the latest entertainment, and the film is not afraid to call us out on turning everything into entertainment. In addition, Willis manages to drop some well-timed insults into the mix, often geared toward the unreliability of the law enforcement that plagues our world. Such small nuances aren’t the wettest humor, but it works given the tone of this film. The film also nails the horror and grief. A man’s love for his wife and children is precious above all.
To have that taken away suddenly, then watch as nothing is done, must be an unbearable burden. The call to action is clearly understood. Who wouldn’t want to take revenge? Kersey’s dilemma turns to bloodlust. He feels he must right the wrongs of a broken, inadequate system. As Kersey’s Grim Reaper persona transfixes Chicago, the film has scenes where popular radio hosts discuss the vigilante killing spree. To some he is a hero, taking back the streets from scum. To others, he is even more dangerous, a psychopath against civilized society. These early scenes, the first half of the film are the high points. The main thing that slightly sets this remake above the average revenge flick is the action scenes. Well, mostly just the level of violence. This is very much an R-rated film and the filmmakers clearly held no interest in holding back that fact. If you are super squeamish, perhaps pass on this one, as this is directed by Eli Roth after all, the man known highly for his shock/gore horror films and he certainly brings that to the forefront. These gory moments are executed very well and provide the jolting effect they are going for. I for one will never trust a car jack again, like ever. Even though director Roth shows his horror background with a couple of killings that are a bit gruesome but they are not overly gratuitous as he cuts away from the carnage instead of lingering on it. That said, this is not a perfect film. The writing has a plenty of storytelling elements and potential plots contained within, but many of these we felt were bluntly dropped into the mix. The Ice Cream Man for instance held little difference outside of his scene on the trailers, though you thought he might have had a little more sway. There are other examples of this, each one starting to build steam or provide a new dynamic for Kersey, but sadly they didn’t quite develop all these elements that could have been something more. The over-the-top gun store scenes don’t exactly do the film any favors either, and the ending, which I will not spoil here, also feels a little too convenient. Then there is the ACDC music, which I really hoped that was just a trailer thing, but apparently it wasn’t. I like ACDC as much as the next man but there is no denying that it they are severely overplayed in this day and age. It has reached the point that I would prefer to hear another forgettable original score made to underscore Kersey teaching himself how to use a gun than the attention grabbing blare of a signed band. Billed as a comeback for Bruce Willis as a lead on the big screen, following a slew of B grade VOD flicks, Willis delivers a good performance. Though wooden initially, though probably done to deliberately separate his character from sharing similarities with Marvel Comic‘s character Frank Castle aka The Punisher, Willis doesn’t display the traditional hysterical sobbing, but rather exuded a quiet sadness that was so profound it felt more genuine and believable and makes for someone you care for and want to see succeed in taking out the bad guys. Here, Willis is what his long term fans want to see him as, someone who cracks some jokes, appears tough, and showcases the charisma that’s been absent from his work the past few years. In supporting roles, Vincent D’Onofrio is a standout and shares some genuine moments of bonding with Willis. Elisabeth Shue, Camila Morrone, Dean Norris, Beau Knapp and Kimberly Elise also play their parts well. On the whole, ‘Death Wish‘ is a fairly solid entertaining flick which despite it revenge clichés manages to provide serviceable action entertainment and marks as a decent return for Bruce Willis to the big screen.
Directed – Eli Roth
Rated – R
Run Time – 107 minutes