Genre: Crime Drama and Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 47 min.
Release Date: March 2nd, 2016 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Eli Roth Actors: Bruce Willis, Vincent D’Onofrio, Elisabeth Shue, Camila Morrone, Dean Norris, Beau Knapp, Kimberly Elise, Kirby Bliss Blanton
t Chicago North Hospital, Dr. Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis) is called into Trauma Room 1. Willis as a top surgeon is the first, incredible suspension of disbelief necessary to get through “Death Wish,” a film that could have been considerably better had it not been a remake (or a redo) of the 1974 Charles Bronson vehicle. This latest iteration is still adapted from the novel by Brian Garfield, but it can’t avoid countless comparisons to the previous theatrical version – one that has become well known to action movie fans.
Kersey has an idyllic family, situated in a cozy home full of nice things. He doesn’t, however, have an alarm system. Wife Lucy (Elisabeth Shue) is positive and supportive; daughter Jordan (Camila Morrone) has just been accepted to NYU; and Paul himself is a respected veteran in the medical field. His only source of frustration is deadbeat brother Frank (Vincent D’Onofrio), who has difficulty holding down a job. But Kersey is about to have another significant begetter of woes: a ring of grand larcenists who intentionally target his house through a valet with momentary access to their car’s mapping system. Strangely, the thieves don’t wait for the family members to leave for a scheduled birthday dinner at a fancy restaurant. Instead, they sneak in and force Lucy, at gunpoint, to unlock a safe.
When the break-in goes terribly wrong, Kersey – who was called into work at the last minute – discovers his wife and daughter have been wheeled into the emergency room with life-threatening gunshot wounds. It’s not long before the good doctor tires of waiting for the police to locate the culprits; justice must be taken into his own hands. “How is this part of His plan? How is this part of any plan?”
Unlike the ’74 picture, Kersey’s mission here is to take revenge against those who harmed his family. A couple of genuine vigilante kills just happen to get in the way (allowing him to be dubbed both a guardian angel and a grim reaper). Plus, the initial attack, though more thrilling (and approached like a home invasion horror bit), isn’t random; there’s a specific foursome of brutes, with identifiable M.O.s and explicit evidence to pin them to the robbery. As such, “Death Wish” quickly loses its focus on vigilantism in favor of old-fashioned revenge (along the lines of “Kick-Ass,” but serious and without the costumes).
Vengeance is, of course, a dependable stimulus on the big screen. But director Eli Roth’s penchant for torture-porn violence tends to generate unintended sympathy for the villains who get what’s coming. In several sequences, they get more than what should be coming. Audiences are supposed to be comfortable with the dispatching of murderers; but when they’re made to suffer to an excessive degree (flourished by graphically damaged flesh), formerly unwarranted pity arises, causing Kersey’s avenger to appear sadistic. Paul may be an antihero, but he shouldn’t be downright despicable.
While the film also comments on gun laws, Chicago’s rising violence statistics, and the normalizing of dangerous behavior, it predominantly glorifies the act of personally fighting back against criminals. And it only rarely takes into consideration the consequences of doing so. The possibilities of fellow gang members, replacement drug dealers, and organized crime connections following up on Paul’s vigilante spree, or even the authorities gunning him down, are never addressed. But this negligence takes place in the same, generically-constructed film that also plans a rendezvous in a safe, public venue, which turns out to be the most obvious spot for an obscured shootout. The finale is comparably outrageous, boasting a smattering of coincidences and conveniences that are too egregious to ignore. At least, since Kersey is a surgeon, he’s not afraid of copious amounts of blood, and, like in “The Fugitive,” he can patch himself up when injured.
– Mike Massie