Director Eli Roth and writer Joe Carnahan play it safe in the unremarkable and unnecessary remake, “Death Wish.” This 2018 edition lacks the grit, political turmoil and emotional complexity that made Paul Kersey a disturbing but connected character. "Death Wish" (1974) was controversial and asked audiences to consider, "What would you do if this happened to you?"
Released in an era before guns were prolific among common criminals and urban crime was on the rise, Charles Bronson gave cinema a guy who took matters into his own hands to alleviate external and internal suffering. Bronson would usher in the era of the vigilante hero. Bruce Willis fine-tuned and exhausted the vigilante hero and now vigilante justice litters American entertainment. It's not new and it's not controversial. “Death Wish” revises social norms, prattles through politics and leaves creative license as the faceless victim of this criminal effort to reconstitute Bronson’s role.
Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis) is a trauma surgeon at a Chicago hospital. He lackadaisically pronounces deceased the victims of gun violence until his wife and daughter arrive wounded. His wife dies and his daughter is left in a coma. Angry that crime has impacted him in his safe suburbia, Paul takes to the streets to deliver hard core American justice on the punks who attacked his family.
Fans of the 1974 original may be pleased that Paul’s wife and daughter are finally given ambitious character development. Elisabeth Shue – the sacrificial mom – is a devoted wife who plans Paul's birthday surprises and their daughter, Jordan (Camila Morrone), is a high school athlete who eagerly awaits news of college acceptance. Replacing Kersey’s son-in-law is Vincent D'Onofrio as Frank, Paul's deadbeat brother.
There is temptation to care about this family, but it dissolves into useless pawns when the gun porn starts.
For legal gun owners, this film may grate on your nerves. Paul turns in the paperwork for his gun permit, but that 30-day wait is simply too long and – not wanting to delay justice – Paul conveniently finds a gun on a patient (because where else can an upstanding citizen find an illegal firearm?), and he awkwardly sets out to shoot random criminals who are victimizing innocent citizens.
Dubbed the “grim reaper” on social media, he enjoys watching his YouTube highlights and being smug with his psychotherapist. In a time where the rights and regulations of gun ownership are continually threatened, lost was the opportunity for Roth-Carnahan to move the narrative of the rogue, affluent, elitist vigilante to genuine themes of home-defense, legal missteps that betray victims and the political dismantling of civil rights.
The modernized updates to the film are the universal use of guns by the criminal element and social media captures of Paul’s exploits complete with memes and viral videos.
A plot that was progressive and not tone-deaf would have better served the intelligence and emotion levels of the audience.
Fans of 1974’s Bronson, Fans of Willis and Action Fans: 2 out of 4 Vigilantes.
Legal Gun Owners: 2 out of 4 Vigilantes.
Gun Law Reformists: 0 out of 4 Vigilantes.