Eli Roth's Death Wish is an exploitative B revenge movie that gets by on its social commentary jabs, gory action sequences and a career-reviving Bruce Willis performance. It's a nod to simpler action movie days that have been lacking over the years.
Horror director Eli Roth transforms Joe Carnahan‘s (The Grey) script into a serviceable Death Wish remake that revitalizes the career of former action movie star Bruce Willis. Death Wish might be exploitative in its vigilante endeavors, but it tackles its touchy subject material with both jabs at gun violence and Chicago’s ridiculous murder rate, within the boundaries of its revenge movie plot, that on its own is just as engaging as it is entertaining.
Dr. Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis) is a successful ER surgeon that seems to have everything. He has the perfect wife, the perfect daughter and an all-around perfect life that he cherishes and appreciates every single second of his day. He’s not some rich snob that’s ungrateful of his fortune and instead a guy that has played his entire life by the books and by the law.
That all changes when a group of thieves rob his home and commit harm towards his wife and daughter. Suddenly, Paul’s world is turned upside down and he’s forcefully exposed to another world, one where robbing, mugging and murdering is common place.
Filled with anger and rage, Paul decides to take the law into his own hands and serve up hot plates of vigilante justice to those that have harmed his family and others. Make no mistake, Paul’s hate is misplaced and misguided, but when a man is pushed to the edge, there is no telling what he will do.
There are a lot of people out there attacking and bashing the film without even giving it a chance, thanks to the unfortunate world we live in, where solving gun violence is harder to accomplish than applying for a credit card. It’s sad and true that a film like this simply can’t exist in today’s society without people attacking it for being insensitive or vigilante-slanted.
My defense is that director Eli Roth and writer Joe Carnahan‘s film isn’t hiding its exploitative piece of social commentary. It’s not the most clever film, but it’s making fun of the system just as much as we do on Twitter and Facebook every day. The only difference here is that Roth and Carnahan have also managed to make a film that captures the helpless emotional state of a grieving father that thinks he’s doing what’s right.
There’s a point in the film where Willis’ Paul confesses to his own brother that he simply doesn’t know what to do or who he really is anymore. Dramatic shock or trauma no doubt changes a person and it’s not like Willis’ character is happy with who he’s become.
He’s simply doing whatever he feels that he can to take control of the situation and try to handle the problem. Does that make the killing and violence okay? Absolutely not.
But do people approach every action movie with this mindset? No they don’t and that’s incredibly unfair.
I’m not going to sit here and be hypocritical of this film and then praise John Wick. I’m going to praise both, because they’re excellent pieces of revenge action cinema. They’re over-the-top and engaging, on an emotional level and on a righteous level.
You don’t have to love this film and feel guilty about it or hate it and feel proud. There’s no problem with loving a good action flick and still understanding that vigilante justice isn’t always right.
But it does make you question the effectiveness of our own laws and the government that overlooks them. How is it so easy for one man to do all of this “detective” work, while the own detectives in the film have time to crack jokes about donuts and pizza, while also being yelled at by their own supervisor for sitting on their asses?
Death Wish is a revenge flick that’s politically incorrect and all the more entertaining for being so. Bruce Willis is literally reborn into action movie hall of fame in a role that requires just as much emoting as it does ass-kicking.
Willis’ Paul Kersey is a logical and reasonable man pushed beyond his means of being logical and reasonable. He’s a pissed off father and husband that’s appreciative and supportive of the law, but also a guy that’s taken five steps into any alleyway into Chicago and noticed that there’s a problem and people aren’t too worried about doing anything to fix it.
I’m not saying that’s grounds for an uprising of vigilante justice, but it is grounds for an escapism action film that’s honestly better than the original film in my opinion, but not quite as intertwined with its conflicts as Death Sentence was.
Eli Roth‘s direction is gory and action-oriented, while Joe Carnahan‘s script fills the rest of the film with enough subplot and story to drive each character. Vincent D’Onofrio gives the most well-rounded and believable performance without ever having to overstep the purpose of the character. Death Wish is far better than I ever thought it was going to be, because of Roth’s more-than-capable action directing hands and a script that’s not just about the action, but also the story and the point. Bruce Willis finally coming back to “life” on-screen also benefits the film greatly and makes it immensely more exciting to watch.
Those looking for the return of Bruce Willis and an R-rated action film that’s not afraid to scatter some bullets and offend people with its inability to sugar coat the world are going to have a blast with Death Wish. Everyone else can stick with a fine documentary on the pros and cons of eating organic food and constantly fearing one’s own shadow.