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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Dan's Review: "Death Wish" a duplicitous approach to violence, justice and self protection

Mar 01, 2018 10:00PM ● By Dan Metcalf

Bruce Willis in Death Wish - © 2018 MGM.

Death Wish (MGM)

Rated R for strong bloody violence, and language throughout.

Starring Bruce Willis, Vincent D'Onofrio, Dean Norris, Kimberly Elise, Mike Epps, Elisabeth Shue, Camila Morrone, Ronnie Gene Blevins, Beau Knapp, Kaniehtiio Horn, Troy Kivisto, Jack Kesy.

Written by Joe Carnahan, based on Death Wish (1974 film) by Wendell Mayes, based on the novel by Brian Garfield.

Directed by Eli Roth.



Timing, they say, is everything. Like, when you release a movie about a gun-toting vigilante out for revenge two weeks after a school shooting in which police officers failed to protect students. So, as the nation debates (along party lines) about the virtues and practical application of the 2nd Amendment, the role of law enforcement and guns in general, here comes Bruce Willis in a rain of gunfire, blasting our sensibilities to oblivion. It also doesn’t help that the film is directed by Eli Roth, not known for exhibiting any semblance of restraint when it comes to the use of gore. Death Wish is a re-make, loosely based on the 1974 Charles Bronson film.

Willis plays Dr. Paul Kersey, a Chicago surgeon who deals with saving lives shattered by rampant violence in the city on a daily basis. When his wife (Elizabeth Shue) is killed and his daughter (Camila Morrone) is knocked into a coma during a home invasion robbery, Kersey’s life is set upside-down, especially after Det. Rains (Dean Norris) and his partner Det. Jackson (Kimberly Elise) can’t find any leads to bring the thugs to justice. By chance, Kersey picks up a gun in the ER and begins to experiment with it, eventually taking to the streets to hand out justice for criminals who operate without fear of the police. Kersey’s incognito killings capture the attention of local media, who dub him “The Grim Reaper.” Kersey eventually chances upon information that leads him to his wife’s killers, and he develops a plan to bring them to justice. Meanwhile, Detectives Rains and Jackson are closing in on the “Grim Reaper,” just as Kersey gets closer to his wife’s killers.

Despite the issues surrounding Death Wish’s untimely release (incidentally, it was supposed to be released several months ago, right around the Las Vegas massacre), there are several other issues that make the movie hard to watch. One issue is the aforementioned “comic” gore that Eli Roth loves to spill on screen. It’s gratuitous and unnecessary and sets a tone that is a little hard to stomach, given the carnage of real life.

There are other head-scratching moments, like how a regular “Joe” is able to head on over to the local gun shop to purchase a fully automatic weapon that comes in handy in the movie’s climactic final act, along with the presence of Vincent D’Onofrio as Paul’s brother Frank, an ex-con whose character is overtly superfluous. It also seems that Dean Norris will forever be typecast as the bumbling, smart aleck, unaware police officer who doesn’t recognize the “regular guy” killer right under his nose, a throwback to his long run on Breaking Bad.   

The biggest Death Wish flaw is its duplicitous approach to violence, justice and self-protection. At one point, you feel real empathy for Kersey, and even consider his actions justified. Suddenly, our hero is assisted by several coincidences and Rube Goldberg mechanisms that conveniently lead to more carnage that is supposed to be funny. It feels like screenwriter Joe Carnahan and Roth couldn’t decide whether to make a campy remake, or a treatise on the pitfalls or benefits of vigilantism.  It’s also a little unsettling to see how fast a benevolent doctor can turn to thrill-killing street thugs.

Death Wish will either be seen as major boon for 2nd Amendment and gun rights supporters or an outright joke by those who want more gun control. Death Wish may not be what our nation needs to heal or solve questions over violence and constitutionally protected self-protection, but one thing is certain. It will spark plenty of debate.  

Death Wish Trailer