I’d have to think real hard to remember a film that could not get released at a more tone deaf time. With big name sponsors cutting ties with the NRA after yet another senseless mass shooting, Death Wish is a poorly timed rebuttal. And a pretty lousy one at that.
The world was a vastly different place in 1974 when Charles Bronson played the vigilante gunning down criminals. In 2018, this is a reboot that seems out of touch with ongoing concerns. Instead of a brainless action film, it plays out more like a propaganda piece for those who value the right to buy machine guns over human lives.
Bruce Willis plays Paul Kersey, a happily married doctor preparing to send his daughter, Jordan (Camila Morrone) to college. Those plans get trashed when his Chicago suburban house gets invaded and Paul suffers a terrible tragedy. With police Det. Raines (Dean Norris) and Det. Jackson (Kimberly Elise) failing to make much progress, Paul takes justice in his own hands to get payback.
Willis seems more interested than he has in some of his more recent films. Or at least he provides more emotional depth to Paul than smirking or looking irritated. He conveys Paul’s loss and need to do something well while looking like a novice using a gun. Vincent D’Onofrio (Daredevil) plays against type as Paul’s supportive brother Frank.
Death Wish’s biggest problem is a much more thoughtful examination of vigilante justice recently came out with Netflix’s The Punisher series. That series explored the mental toll of killing — even on a trained soldier — following a path of vengeance. Death Wish makes the pitch that anyone can become a gun expert with a few YouTube training videos.
Screenwriter Joe Carnahan (The Grey) tries to give voice to real concerns about vigilante justice through radio talk shows hosts. But there’s something weird when Mancow and Sway have to do the film’s deep philosophical heavy lifting. To his credit, Carnahan tries to present both sides of the gun rights argument fairly.
The issue is Director Eli Roth isn’t interested in making a remotely subtle revenge movie. Roth still directs his films like a horror movie so there’s an excessive amount of gore for the sake of gore, not realism.
Antoine Fuqua’s The Equalizer had its share of violence, but he was able to accomplish it without cartoonish deaths. For some audience members, that might elicit a hearty ‘yeah!’ or ‘alright!,’ but Roth presents the action in such a silly manner that there’s little suspense.
Even as a shut your brain off and watch exercise, Death Wish isn’t very fulfilling as there’s too many conveniences to make everything too simple for Paul. Bethany at the gun shop must have provided some extra lightweight bulletproof vests.
And the irony seems completely lost of a white guy wearing a hoodie gunning down minorities in Chicago being a terrible look. Maybe Willis was going with an Unbreakable shout out, but the hoodie has in a lot of ways come to be symbolic of Black Lives Matter and to see it so dismissively used in this context is uncomfortable.
Conclusion: Death Wish comes off too tastelessly tone deaf to work as a revenge thriller.
Rating: 3 out of 10
Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures