#REVIEW: “DEATH WISH”
Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
Dr. Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis) is a successful surgeon living with his family in suburban Chicago. During a botched burglary, his wife is murdered and his daughter is assaulted and left in a coma. With no leads in the police investigation, Kersey decides to take the law into his own hands as a vigilante.
Despite its grim subject matter, this remake of Death Wish is entertaining enough on the surface. Director Eli Roth uses his background in Horror efficiently, ratcheting-up the terror and thrills of each scene more strongly than most action films would. He even injects a few sparse laughs into the Film, allowing the subtle dark humour to really shine through. The score from Ludwig Göransson (who also scored current box office phenomenon Black Panther) is a terrific mix of genuine tension, complementing the horror elements added by Roth. And as you might expect, there are some pretty graphic death scenes scattered throughout the Film, ranging from the viciously ruthless to the ridiculously satisfying.
Death Wish was delayed from its original November 2017 release date due to the mass shooting in Las Vegas. So it feels slightly awkward to note that the new release date is coming in the wake of another brutal US shooting. And in that way, the Film is incredibly hard to watch without feeling icky or borderline exploitive. It revels in its brutal violence and champions its central character’s penchant for vigilante justice. Setting the Story in Chicago as opposed to the original Film’s New York City is an interesting choice, but the Film only uses the setting to justify the obscenely high rate of gun violence. Roth drops in internet clips and montages of radio hosts discussing the murders Kersey is committing as a means of satire, but does not allow them to amount to be anything beyond background noise. These commentaries were added for a reason, but instead of benefitting the Film, they just help perpetuate how archaic and completely irrelevant Death Wish feels in 2018.
Much like the odd content surrounding it, the acting is a mixed bag. Elisabeth Shue is criminally-underutilized as Kersey’s wife Lucy, as is Vincent D’Onofrio as Kersey’s brother Frank. They both get moments to leave an impression on the Film, but are sadly forgettable. Kimberly Elise and Breaking Bad’s Dean Norris give good performances as the cops working the investigation, but I felt like they were acting in a different Movie entirely.
But of anyone in the Cast, Willis stands on his own as a genuine curiosity. He sleep-walks through many scenes (including moments before he is horribly traumatized), but then gives some of the most emotional work of his career in others. The consistency in his inflection is also questionable, leading to moments where he sounds and looks more like Tommy Wiseau than he does the former John McClane. It is a bizarre performance that should feel more like the rest of Willis’ body of work, but ends up being one of his most eclectic roles yet.
If you dig gritty Revenge Thrillers, Death Wish is compelling enough. There is a lot wrong with it, but genre wise, it has enough moments of vigilantism to keep you entertained. But if you look a bit deeper, you will quickly notice how unsound the Film feels in the current political landscape. So be careful with what you wish for.
eOne Films release DEATH WISH on Friday, March 2, 2018.