The remake to the 1974 Charles Bronson film, Death Wish, hit theaters this past weekend starring Bruce Willis and helmed by horror director Eli Roth – stepping far away from his horror roots with this modernization of the Bronson classic.
As with most remakes there are several questions to be asked: is the remake necessary; is there something different to be said; does it need to be updated for a modern audience?
Majority of films that get remade do not meet the above guidelines; most are remade because of a brand that a studio can cash in on – A Nightmare on Elm St, Halloween, and Friday the 13th. This is a quick and easy way for the studios to make money with an already built-in fan base and hopefully get a few of the younger generation into the seats with a lazy retelling of a classic movie.
But the best remakes are the ones that not only pay homage to the original but add something new to the films. John Carpenter’s The Thing maybe the best example of this - though at the time of its release, The Thing was a bomb and took years for people to discover its brilliance.
So these same questions need to be applied to Death Wish: is the remake necessary; is there something different to be said; does it need to be updated for a modern audience?
The answer is: Yes.
But does the 2018 Death Wish do this successfullly? Yes and no.
There is enough updated in Death Wish from is ‘74 counterpart that it feels fresh and new for modern audiences, while at the same time throwing a call-back to the original film when it’s needed – epically the ending. But the modernization is only technology, and not ideology; there are no looming moral question about gangs, gun violence, murders, or the repercussions of Kersey’s actions if he’s caught – this is a story that is set morally in a different era.
A lot has changed in the United States since the 1974. Culturally, racially, and politically we are in a different world some forty-four years later; even if snippets of the past seem to be coming back. The 1974 film is a movie made of its time – a rough around the edges, grindhouse-style film with Bronson at his gnarled best getting revenge on the punks of 1970s NYC. It is a tale of a man pushed to the breaking point, where he takes the law into his own hands and dishes his own brand of punishment.
Death Wish 2018 is pretty much the exact same story just set in modern times. And though the two movies share the main character of Paul Kersey, and a vigilante plot, little else is the same.
This time around Bruce Willis plays Paul Kersey, a respected Chicago surgeon who takes it upon himself to find his wife’s murderers and clean up the streets of Chicago, where crime seems to be at an unprecedented all-time high. Paul Kersey, at first, is a soft-spoken, caring doctor who’s willing to save every life, including gang-bangers and thugs because that’s his duty as a doctor. He’s a man devoted to his wife Lucy (Elizabeth Shue), his daughter, Jordan, (Camila Moore) and his out of work, broke brother, Frank (Vincent D’Onofrio). But when his life is forever changed with Lucy’s brutal murder, Kersey flips from soft-spoken nice guy to stone-cold killer and he does so with such ease that it’s scary – almost like the Kersey character had some dark monster living inside of him all along, just clamoring to be set free.
Death Wish 2018 isn’t as heavy handed with its message of vigilantism as the ‘74 film was, but at the same time, it still asks the question should someone take the law into their own hands, when the system fails. It’s shown several times in the film how bogged down the police are with unsolved crimes in the city the size of Chicago, and that another murder is just another name added to a wall. Kersey does everything by the book before he takes the law into his own hands: talking to the police, following up with them, giving them any and all information that would help them find his wife’s killers.
As stated above, the social commentary of the original Death Wish is not as present in the 2018 film. Death Wish 2018 is meant to entertain, and be a fun Bruce Willis/Eli Roth escapism revenge action film with a touch of social commentary about gun violence, gangs, and vigilantism to make you aware, but not to pound a political message down your throat. The film makes no effort to hide what it is trying to be, or what it is trying not to be – and it is definitely not trying to be politically correct.
Willis is cast well in this role, even if he is wooden and phoning it in at times. But in the scenes when he decides he wants to act, he’s actually pretty good and you can see his range as an actor shining through. Vincent D’Onofrio is the stand-out in the film, and an actor no matter what film or TV project he’s in, always give it one-hundred percent. It’s too bad that he wasn’t in the film more, and wasn’t given an opportunity to flex his acting chops more.
Being a first-time director of an action-thriller, Eli Roth handles the material well, and gives ample screen time for the characters to develop and story to unfold, before kicking the film into high gear with well-crafted suspense, action, and shootouts set pieces. He also gives us a very nasty torture scene that will have you squirming in your seat. If Roth continues with action/thrillers, he has a big career in the genre as he showed skill crafting the film.
With Death Wish, Willis and Roth are not looking to make anything more than a satisfying revenge movie, like those of the 70s or 80s. And let’s face it, if you’re going out to see Death Wish 2018, you’re going to see Bruce Willis dish out some justice on those who wronged him. The film sides with Kersey in the end, and that his actions were justified, as did the original Death Wish. But that is the point to the Kersey character arc and Death Wish itself; he begins to feel what he’s doing is justified, even if it’s wrong in the viewers eyes. Kersey is not a hero; he’s the anti-hero and you’re not supposed to like what he does during the film, nor are you supposed to want to be him.
8 out of 10 Stars.
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