Death Wish – 2018

Director Eli Roth
Screenplay by Joe Carnahan
Starring Bruce Willis, Vincent D’Onofrio, Elisabeth Shue, Dean Norris, Kimberly Elise, Camilla Morrone

There is no illusion. Eli Roth’s version of the Charles Bronson 1974 phenomenon, Death Wish is not a great film. It takes a movie star several years past his prime, makes him play a role that is several steps down from his best characters. It gives the feeling of one of Bruce Willis’ great lampooned performances at the end of The Player, but without any of the sense of ironic humor inherent in that performance.

Just because it’s not a classic by no means infers that it is a bad film. It has a sturdy script that allows good character actors a little room to move. There’s nothing like a bit of nuance to show the human condition when it’s tested by extreme events.

Willis is Dr. Paul Kersey, a Chicago surgeon who spends the majority of his time changing operating rooms and administering gunshot wounds. After his wife and daughter become two more victims of a wave of Lakeshore robberies, his life begins to change. His wife (Shue) is dead and his daughter (Morrone) is in a coma.

After he takes his wife back to Texas for burial, he’s introduced to the idea of vigilante justice by his father in law. The police working the case (Norris and Elise) are earnest and forthcoming with all that they know…which isn’t much. After he takes a beating interceding with another assault, he decides its time to do something about it.

Paul is played with a severe lack of emotion in the Bronson original. His limited range and the horrible acting of the thugs back then complimented the clumsy script. The script is better this time. The situations have a bit more resonance. Willis is just as poorly suited for his character as Bronson, though. How he manages a few tears, I have no idea. He just doesn’t ever seem attached to his character or his situation until he’s about 3 revenge killings in.

As his Willis’ brother Frank, D’Onofrio is better here, but nowhere near his potential. Norris and Elise are entertaining, particularly the former. His breakthrough role as Hank on Breaking Bad allows him to show more intelligence than most ineffective detectives in this normally thankless role.

The politics are played right down the middle here in the form of radio shows. There is no attempt to present anything more than a story of a man finding his way into justice. The mass shooting in Las Vegas in October, pushed the film back from its original November release date to March. Then on Valentine’s Day in Florida, another mass shooting relegated the advertising for this film to almost nothing.

If this were a great film, there might be something to say about the rights to bear arms to protect oneself from the criminals. The filmmakers are not interested in waging a war in politics. They really just wanted a vehicle for Eli Roth to be just a little more mainstream and for Bruce Willis to climb back out of the straight to video market.

Roth is less obscene with his violence here. He tones down the violence and sexual assault of the original attacks, even showing the gunshots off-screen. The bad guys still get theirs, but the gross stuff is relegated to split second shots. It’s almost G-Rated, compared to what he normally gives the viewer.

There will be no lightning in a bottle effect this time. It’s a different era. We’ve seen too much of this stuff in the movies to have an effect. God knows we see it enough in our daily lives. It’s not going to change anyone’s mind in the debate about guns. This Death Wish isn’t bad, but it’s not good enough to bring any sort of success.

(*** out of *****)

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