You won’t see a more subversive film all year than Eli Roth’s “Death Wish.”
How can a remake of the 1974 vigilante classic be so bold? It’s simple. The remake doesn’t tinker with the vigilante formula beyond concessions to our digital age. No hand wringing, no attempts to bring social justice to the classic tale.
The very last word you’d use to describe the new “Death Wish” is “woke.”
The film goes much further, though. It gives a long, wet raspberry to the scourge that is political correctness. Take away the ideological dustups, and you’re left with a premium crowd pleaser with a kiss of ’80s action thrown in.
Bruce Willis takes over for Charles Bronson as Dr. Paul Kersey. He’s a mild-mannered surgeon who’d rather swallow his pride that square off against a local bully. His suburban bliss is shattered when a group of thugs break into his home while he’s at work.
They murder his adoring wife (Elisabeth Shue) and leave their teenage daughter (Camila Morrone) in a coma.
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Paul is shattered, but he assumes law enforcement will nab the killers at the very least. That process begins at a snail’s pace, planting a seed for vengeance that grows alongside his rage. The sight of a large bulletin board filled with Post-it type notes representing “open cases” feeds that transformation.
We know what happens next. A gun-slinging Paul starts taking out the trash, vigilante style. So why bother with a remake in the first place?
For starters, the vigilante template is timeless. Justice is never swift enough for those broken by criminals. Setting the movie in Chicago, a city awash in crime, gives the film real-life gravitas.
Willis has a well-earned reputation for phoning in a role or three. Here, he begins with a hushed tone suggesting he’s ready for some speed dialing. Once those thugs target his family he finds a second, more satisfying gear.
Only he’s no rootin’ shootin’ vigilante. He’s clumsy, forcing confrontations that quickly place him in harm’s way. And he doesn’t go from Everyman to Superman as other vigilante movies do. His evolution is gradual, the pain giving way to something raw… and empowering.
Forget about toxic masculinity. He feels like he failed his family, and it’s time to do something about it.
DID YOU KNOW: Roger Ebert dubbed Charles Bronson’s “Death Wish” “propaganda for private gun ownership.”
Roller coasters have nothing on director Eli Roth’s resume. Here, he delivers both the genre staples and a brisk sense of comic timing.
Joe Carnahan’s script pokes a stick at PC conventions in between darkly comic morsels. The cop on the killers’ trail (“Breaking Bad’s” Dean Norris) bites into a gluten-free snack before grimacing in disgust. A character can be seen reading C.S. Lewis, while another name drops a tome by conservative icon Milton Friedman.
Paul even curses out a squeegee man interrupting his commute. We warned you “Death Wish” had a subversive streak.
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“Death Wish” clearly paints Paul as the aggrieved hero, but vigilantism doesn’t come away unscathed. The narrative features talk radio asides about the man dubbed the “Grim Reaper.” Is his killing spree isn’t just another side of the criminal coin?
Roth may be maddeningly inconsistent, but his grasp of pop culture boosts the film immeasurably. Using YouTube clips to modernize the story feels right – and delivers one of many killer punch lines.
We warned you “Death Wish” had a subversive streak.
He still should have snipped a few unnecessary moments entirely. A sequence involving Paul’s father-in-law (the great Lou Cariou) is just plain silly, not to mention unnecessary. And the machinations required to arrive at the feel-better ending are similarly tacky.
Paul dons a hoodie during his vigilante escapades to escape detection. Plenty will connect that sartorial choice with the late Trayvon Martin, something the film directly acknowledges.
Roth goes ahead with it all the same. He also highlights crucial lines like this, the kind that register with many consumers:
“The police only arrive after the crime has taken place.”
The home invasion sequence, relentlessly brutal in the Bronson original, is toned down here. Roth, who all but invented the torture porn sub-genre, can’t keep his grindhouse sentiments at bay for long.
FAST FACT: The 1974 “Death Wish” brought in $22 million at the box office. The fifth and final film in the original Bronson series, “Death Wish V: The Face of Death,” only managed $1.7 million 20 years later.
The final act features some gruesome visuals along with a nod to Willis’ action heyday. Yes, Carnahan hand-delivers a totally ’80s line to our hero. It’s silly and perfect all at once.
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Progressive film scribes pounced on the first “Death Wish” trailer. They slammed it as fascist, racist and worst. The film itself? Paul’s good friend at the hospital is black (an underused Mike Epps). The villains staring down his increasingly accurate gun barrel? They’re black, white and Latino.
One tense sequence finds Paul coming to the rescue of a young black woman who thanks the hooded hero for saving her life.
Roth and co. shrewdly arranged these pieces to avoid charges of racism. Oh, some will raise the issue all the same. Audiences will be too busy cheering Paul on to hear them. Or care.
HiT or Miss: “Death Wish” is more than just a crass remake. It’s a blistering reminder why some movie templates never grow old.
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So basically it’s good cause it’s not PC?
No, it’s good because it’s well-made, and its not being PC is a bonus.
The review sure made it seem like it. I doubt Eli Roth could direct a decent movie to save his life but to each his own.
Bruce Willis can probably direct himself. I think he’s been in movies awhile.
Since for better than a decade, we have been hearing that being PC makes a movie good, at least it conforms to the rule that if you want to stop getting what you are getting, stop doing what you are doing.
Well that’s just downright stupid and/or ignorant. Are you saying that so long as a movie is PC, that’s enough for critics to say it’s good?
Um, yes. For many critics. PC is just virtue signaling, after all.
Well, maybe the movie-makers now can learn to make a film without preaching the leftist gospel and concentrate on providing good entertainment.
Never use ‘learn’ and ‘leftist’ in the same sentence. They are incapable of it.
Photoshop a 30-round magazine onto the jack…
I haven’t been to a movie in almost two years, but I may see this one just to see irritating hippie Elizabeth Shue whacked. And the remark by freedom-hating lefty Roger Ebert doesn’t surprise me.
Roger Ebert it stalking you from the grave?
Fun fact: Before Roger died, he lived.
Will go see it. Death Wish along with The Warriors were two great films that captured the decline and rot of NYC in the 70’s.
DeBlasio is recreating those conditions.
And the present day.
Hey Hollywood, Make a movie about a loving nuclear american family who love and take care of each other and then contrast it with your classic black”family” where the fathers and mothers do not take care of their children. Show the real truth and the real reality. Also show Wall street thieves for what they are spiritually. Make a movie about how the media moguls deliberately are turning our culture into an open sewer
I’m afraid your racist fantasies just don’t make for a compelling cinematic experience.
Fantasies? See, that’s your problem right there, buckaroo. Why don’t you do a little research on family structure for different ethnic groups in the US and find out what the ACTUAL reality is?
There’s definitely someone living in a fantasy world here, but it’s not sancho.
Can’t wait. Any movies where the good guys win and the bad guys die is a winner for me.
Oh hell yeah. Twice at LEAST.
Fair enough, I’ll give it some coin.
LEN Cariou, not Lou. He’s the grandfather on BLUE BLOODS.
The movie reviewer in my local daily paper basically uses a handicap if the movie has either a lefty or righty (or Christian) bend to it. If its a liberal preachy film, he gives it a higher rating than what most reviewers do. And lowers the rating if it has any conservative or religious themes. This movie received 1.5 (our of 4 possible) stars. So in real life, its probably a 2.5 out of 4.
“Perverse nature of gun culture” I should add that is one of the lines the reviewer used to pan the movie.
I suspect it will be popular overseas: watch it and you will find why the ordinary working class Filipino supports Duterte’s drug war…
First movie that I’ll go to the theater for a LONG time.
Hmm. Haven’t bothered much w/ Hollywood in a while, but I do enjoy Bruce. Maybe I’ll catch this one on DVD.
Really? Subversive? A beta male must have written this!
lol… These movies have been popular for decades,they were called action movies. Suddenly they are a political statement against the left… Kinda stretching it a bit…
Does it “own the libs”? Because that’s all that really matters, right?
derek, yes Class,taste and decorum just can not compete with dysfunction profanity vulgarity garbage and filth as regrds the rancid toxic bottom feeders who groove on swill. The primary reason the moslem world hates us is because of that tidal wave of raw sewage euphemistically call American popular which is pouring into their world. Iran, China Korea Italy and Russia MAKE good movies without the filth that you love so well. It takes talent to craft good movies. Any untalented mediocrity can create the garbage you prefer
Great flick, but you’d best believe the fact that the main villains responsible for the death of Willis’s family were all WHITE was a highly improbable sop to political correctness! In reality, 96% of arrested murderers in Chicago are not white.
The movie was enjoyable, but why depict Willis buying a full automatic from the gun store?