UK Release Date: 6th April 2018
Runtime: 107 minutes
Director: Eli Roth
Writer: Joe Carnahan
Starring: Bruce Willis, Camila Morrone, Elisabeth Shue, Vincent D’Onofrio, Dean Norris, Kimberly Elise
Synopsis: When his wife is killed and his daughter injured in a robbery, a previously mild-mannered doctor takes matters into his own violent hands in crime-ridden Chicago.
For some cinemagoers, the prospect of a Death Wish remake from the collaborative forces of Eli Roth and Joe Carnahan is a thrilling one. Others, meanwhile, have spent the last few months dreading the intervention of Roth – still best known for his Hostel films – into a franchise that was already distasteful and crass to begin with. It’s a project that has been gestating for many years, but has finally come to fruition in the midst of a presidency that, it seems, would have great sympathy with its central premise. To paraphrase the NRA, “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with Bruce Willis with a gun”.
Willis takes on the starring role here as Dr Paul Kersey – and if you can think of a less convincing movie doctor, let me know. He’s tired of the crime-ridden city of Chicago in which he works and, when his wife (Elisabeth Shue) is killed and daughter (Camila Morrone) seriously injured during a robbery, he decides to arm himself and turn vigilante. He’s soon on the tail of the robbers, taking out as many criminals as he can along the way as well.
Watching Death Wish is an experience akin to wading through filth for just shy of two hours. Its entire concept is predicated on the caveman ideology of the role of a man as protector to the family, with every female character in the movie nothing other than a victim in need of rescuing. One character tells Willis early on that “police only arrive after the crime has taken place”, suggesting vigilantism is the only option to truly keep the people you love safe – a dangerous notion by anyone’s measure. An almost comedically loopy pro-gun advert halfway through seems to suggest a potential gun control message, but Roth and Carnahan very quickly fall on the side of those who feel like a firearm is an essential tool to stay safe in modern America.
There’s an undeniable gusto to the way in which Roth approaches the scenes of violence, which is exactly what you’d expect given his Splat Pack credentials. The onslaught of torture and brutality, though, is largely boring and as unimaginative as it is grim, with no sense of proportionality. Much like in the dystopian world of Dredd, every crime is seemingly punishable by death. When Willis’s vigilante, dubbed ‘The Chicago Grim Reaper’ by the press, is described as “straight out of a comic book”, it feels like an insult to the strict moral code of most superheroes. Compared to more complex revenge movies like Blue Ruin and Dead Man’s Shoes, this is a thematic crayon drawing.
And that’s before we even get to Willis himself. It’s not uncommon for him to sleepwalk and meander through performances in this phase of his career, but it’s tough to remember him ever looking as bored as he does in Death Wish. He is cast only for the presence of his name on the poster, which gives the movie just enough box office momentum to get a run in cinemas rather than a one-way ticket into direct-to-DVD purgatory.
Pop or Poop?
Morally, politically, philosophically and in just about every other way you care to imagine, Death Wish is an icky cinematic experience that suggests the politics of the revenge movie haven’t changed a bit since the 1970s. Bruce Willis looks like he’s on the edge of sleep all the way through, and it’s tough not to want to join him.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.