The seventies were a time of unrest and in some parts of America, high crime. Tough Guy Charles Bronson brought to live an everyman pushed to the edge by criminals who attack his wife and daughter. The original Death Wish spawned four sequels. Architect Paul Kersey journeyed through crime ridden neighborhoods to do what police could…or would not…do.
In Eli Roth’s remake, America’s favorite tough guy, Bruce Willis, plays Paul Kersey. In the original franchise he was a mild mannered architect. Here, we find Paul Kersey to be a skilled surgeon in the emergency room. The film shows Kersey to be a decent guy, but also one who backs down in confrontation. It also makes a point in one scene to show that Paul does not own any guns. But when his wife and daughter are attacked, the police start to seem a lot less effective. It eats at Paul and he becomes drawn to a local gun store.
After a couple false starts, Paul manages to foil a car jacking and soon follows it up by killing a noted drug dealer. The media erupts and Paul is nicknamed the Grim Reaper.
Many have noted that it is practically an ad for the NRA. But really, this film is more of a promotion of the fear that certain politicians foist upon us. Fears of rampant crime, violent drug dealers, foreign invaders and so on. And it is not that these things do not exist. But the film overhypes them.
Eli Roth uses his trademark subtlety with this one. The core of the film is revenge because “You touched my stuff!” This may seem harsh, but the daughter spends almost the entire film in a coma and her mother is dead. The women in his life are reduced to being stuff to drive his anger, fear and resentment.
The way the film ties up it’s story is just overly neat and tidy. Implausibly so. Roth plays lip service to the idea that maybe Kersey is in the wrong…but it is set dressing. It is painfully clear that we are to identify with and thrill over his violence and cruelty.
When I took the disk from the player…I really found the movie pretty unremarkable, fading from my memory. It follows the required rules of action movies…but it fails to make the character interesting or complex. This is not John McClane taking on terrorists whose plot he stumbled into. This is a predator going on the hunt, which is a lot harder to root for.