Death Wish

Death Wish ★½

During the past two weeks, I’ve watched the 5 Bronson Death Wish movies, as well as James Wan’s 2007 Death Sentence, which was partially based on Brian Garfield’s follow-up novel to Death Wish. All but the 2nd of the Bronson movies are good (according to varying standards) one-man-killing-machine pulp, and Death Sentence is an ugly Taxi Driver wannabe that can’t make up its mind what kind of movie it wants to be. I felt similarly about this new Death Wish: it wants to be a serious drama, but only deals in cliches, and doesn’t have the efficient filmmaking or social relevance of Michael Winner's original film version. Roth does have skill at and enthusiasm for gore and exploitation, but he doesn’t integrate them here into a tonally coherent whole. A few of the gore scenes — and one Deus ex Machina by bowling ball — are so over the top, they could just as easily feature in a Looney Tunes-inspired farce. Willis is good, and it’s nice to see him back, but he’s too uncomplicated for a role like Paul Kersey. Charles Bronson is no master Thespian, but he has a determined blankness that allows us to project the scenario’s uncertainties onto him. Willis is both too open and too unconflicted about his character’s transgressions. I couldn’t help but imagine how different this movie would have been if the more unpredictable and always-suffering Vincent D’Onofrio, who plays Kersey’s brother, was in the primary role instead. As it is, however, Roth’s Death Wish neither wrestles with vigilantism as a moral/social problem nor fully indulges in the catharsis of it to sate an exploitation audience; it just flirts (poorly) with tropes. It’s not only disposable compared to the 1974 Bronson version, it even pales next to that film's sillier sequels.

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