Scott Free Productions/MGM Studios/Vertigo Films/Annapurna Pictures
Directed by Eli Roth
Produced by Roger Birnbaum
Screenplay by Joe Carnahan
Some people take serious umbrage at the fact that I really don’t give a penguin’s pizzle about remakes. They will scream at me until their faces turn purple that; “The remakes ruin the original!” No, they don’t. The originals are still there for you to watch and enjoy and the very fact that they are there says more about their strength and staying power than any words I could type. And how about the remakes that are better than the original? Let’s take “The Maltese Falcon” as an example. It’s a remake of a remake and yet, it’s far better revered the previous two versions. And how about Peter Jackson’s “King Kong”?
The theater does remakes all the time but they call them ‘revivals.’ Every year on Broadway there’s new version of classic musicals such as “West Side Story” “My Fair Lady” “Oklahoma!” and “Hello, Dolly!” but you never see theater fans getting their guts twisted about it. No, they go to see the revivals and delight in the fact that their favorite musicals are still being produced and enjoyed by a whole new generation of theater fans.
What I do care about is if the remake if well-made, has respect for the original and brings something new to the material. Let’s take Gus van Sant’s remake of “Psycho.” My question is why? I mean, I realize that the movie was something of an experiment and a mighty expensive one at that. But what’s the point of remaking a movie shot-for-shot? If you’re going to devote time out of your life that you’ll never get back to a project then why not make it the way that you want to make it and at least you can sing “My Way” as you drown in bad reviews and the curses of your creditors.
As my beloved Aunt Lottie would put it; I say that to say this: Eli Roth and Joe Carnahan did indeed make their version of DEATH WISH but it could have been more. It’s an entertaining, energetic urban thriller than has Bruce Willis actually acting and looking like he’s enjoying acting for the first time since the “Red” movies but I think it missed something the original had. I’ll get into that after the obligatory plot summary.
Dr. Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis) is a respected and successful trauma surgeon in a Chicago hospital. He shares and enjoys his life with his wife Lucy Rose (Elisabeth Shue) daughter Jordan (Camila Morrone) and his brother Frank (Vincent D’Onofrio). The family is ecstatic over Jordan’s acceptance to a prestigious New York college and make plans to celebrate her acceptance and Paul’s birthday. The plans are kiboshed by a medical emergency at the hospital, leaving Lucy Rose and Jordan home alone. The Kersey house is burglarized that night. Lucy Rose is killed and Jordan, due to a savage beating is left in a coma.
The detectives assigned to the case (Dean Norris and Kimberly Elise) are appropriately sympathetic and helpful but Paul becomes more and more frustrated as time passes by and it seems as if nothing is being done to get him the justice that he believes he deserves. Paul acquires a handgun and wearing a hoodie begins going out at night dispensing justice as he sees fit, executing carjackers, muggers, would-be rapists…all while trying to track down the men who invaded his home and brutalized his family. He becomes known in the media as “The Grim Reaper” and Chicago is divided in it’s opinion of if this lone vigilante is a hero or villain.
Now, here’s where I think that this version of DEATH WISH missed elevating itself from just another urban thriller into the level of the original. When the original was released back in 1974, urban crime was rampant, to say the least. New York was like something out of a John Carpenter movie and white flight was in full swing as them that could leave the city, did.
That’s not to say that urban crime has gone away or that we shouldn’t still worry about it. We should. But that was the uppermost concern of most people back in 1974. In 2018, domestic terrorism and mass shootings are the terrors that keep us awake in the night and in the wake of such horrors as the Las Vegas shootings and the school shootings that apparently happen every other day now, I think that a modern day version of DEATH WISH would have been more relevant and had more of an emotional gut punch if it had tackled those issues instead of playing it safe with what is at it’s core, a By-The-Numbers Revenge Thriller.
That’s not to say it isn’t a fun to watch a By-The-Numbers Revenge Thriller. Since I’ve never yet met an Eli Roth movie I liked, I was truly surprised at how much I liked DEATH WISH. Maybe it’s because the script was written by Joe Carnahan who probably writes stuff like this on his off days, I betchoo. I dunno. But I do know that Roth got a performance out of Bruce Willis.
In recent years I’ve become so disgruntled with Bruce Willis it ain’t funny. He should have given back the check for “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” and “A Good Day To Die Hard” was so bad it was outclassed that same year by two “Die Hard” knockoffs that were better than the actual “Die Hard” movie.
But Bruce Willis gives Paul Kersey a lot of depth and motivation to his actions. I got a kick out of the fact that he learns how to shoot a gun, stalk his victims and learn other vigilante type stuff the same way everybody learns stuff these days: he watches YouTube videos. The irony of his being an trauma surgeon by day didn’t escape me. By night while he’s out killing criminals, he’s just a surgeon of a different sort And while he doesn’t suffer the same kind of psychological anguish that Charles Bronson’s Kersey did (he became violently sick and vomited after killing his first victim) we do see he has some doubts and conflicts about what he’s doing. At least until he sees his videos online. And if there’s anything else that the movie should have followed up on it’s the hint that Kersey is secretly getting a bit of a charge out of becoming a Social Media sensation.
But we have to deal with what the movie is and not what we wish it could be, correct? And as it is, DEATH WISH is a satisfying movie. I liked how Bruce Willis didn’t play an unstoppable one-man army here. In fact, he kinda sucks at being a vigilante for much of the movie and gets by more on nerve and luck. At least until the final confrontation where he gets a chance that the Charles Bronson Paul Kersey never did.
So, should you see DEATH WISH? I recommend it, if my opinion means anything. No, it’s not the best movie you’re going to see this year but it is well-made and well-acted. And it’s got Elisabeth Shue. And it’s got the best death by bowling ball scene you’re gonna see in a decade. And it’s got Dean Norris. And it’s got Bruce Willis at last acting as if he’s truly interested in acting once again. Enjoy.