Remember 2018? Boy… a lot has happened since then, huh? One of the small films that came out that year was Eli Roth’s remake of Death Wish, starring Bruce Willis. A huge action star and an (in)famous horror film maker teaming up. Was it any good? Well, let’s talk about that.
The idea of a remake of Death Wish had been something I’d been hoping for for many years. Well, a remake done right, that is.
The original film is not really a big time action film like it’s sequels. In my opinion it’s more of a character study. What would happen to a New York Liberal when faced with the reality of the world, and his transformation into a vigilante. It’s not a seamless transition for him either. In the original movie he does have his doubts at first. He gets used to it pretty quick though.
The remake is an exploitation film pure and simple. Roth made this clear in the PR for the film. His remarks about the politics of the film, and recent events made this clear. I still get a chuckle thinking about my friend Josh’s comments to me about it at the time. He was so offended/disgusted by Roth’s naked and blatant comments meant to rile up the press.
I found this very funny coming from a guy who loves exploitation films and has a long running podcast that celebrated exploitation and genre films. A guy making an exploitation film and exploiting current events to gin up press for it?! Who could have imagined!
Anyhoo… the remake has no pretensions of saying something about the human condition in then modern urban America like the original. That’s fine though, I gots what I paids me money for!
In the remake Paul Kersey is a very well to do surgeon in Chicago. He has a daughter and a wife (uh-oh) and a brother. They are all living the suburban upper-middle-class dream. After a visit to local eatery, their address is copied by some mooks who heard them discuss an upcoming trip. Unexpectedly, Paul gets called into surgery and the trip is cancelled, meaning these mooks break in on a Mom and Daughter still at home.
You know how this goes. Unfortunately, Roth did not have the balls to take it all the way of the original. Kersey’s wife ends up dead and the daughter is in a coma after the home invasion. After months of the cops doing what cops in Chicago do best, nothing, Paul starts to get a little perturbed.
In the truly dumbest part of Death Wish, Paul visits an Illinois gun store that sells everything banned and illegal in IL in reality. Afterwards a wounded urban youth patient is brought into the ER and Paul finds a handgun on him. He snatches it up, and starts practicing with it secretly. Like the other Paul Kersey, he starts walking the streets of Chicago at night. Pretty soon he has stopped a carjacker and killed a drug dealer while trying to find the men who attacked his family.
He does start figuring it out and we get one of the best torture/ interrogation scenes ever put on film in this man’s opinion. It involves a car jack, a scalpel and break fluid in an open leg wound. Good stuff.
Paul does get his revenge on the home invaders in the end, unlike Bronson’s original version. The final shootout is the weakest part of the film. Not because of the action, but because it ties things up too nicely with a happy ending. In the original, Paul gets no such satisfaction and it makes for a better ending for me. It also helps explain Paul’s eagerness to start up again in the sequel and his ongoing bloodlust for killing shitbags.
I wish I could say this is one of Bruce’s better later day performances. It’s not. Knowing what we know about his health issues now makes me more forgiving of it. At the time I kept wondering if he even gave a damn. It’s not that bad, but he clearly wasn’t at his best.
Of course critics hated the movie. A man protecting his family and getting revenge? You know how they would have reacted to that in the Trump years. It also leans into pro-gun and pro-self defense territory pretty hard. I don’t know if Roth feels that way or just thought it would be more controversial. Willis himself is a pro-gun guy and I’m sure he had at least a little say in that.
That said, the gun handling is pretty “Hollywood retarded” and the gun laws in reality made the IL gun store about as realistic as the California gun store in Terminator with it’s full auto selection.
Death Wish is still a pretty fun movie with some excellent violence. It’s a strange decision to tone down the nature of the attack from the original, removing the rape angle as a driver for revenge. Roth maybe got shot down on that one. I doubt it was his own decision judging by his past movies.
I do recommend it. It is a small, modern exploitation flick that gives you the pipe dream of seeing some Chicago mooks getting what they much deserve.
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