Movie Review: Death Wish (2018)

In case you don’t follow the news, America has a problem with gun violence. According to the website Gun Violence Archive, there were 60 incidents of gun violence on June 11, 2018, resulting in 20 deaths and 40 injuries. That’s just in ONE DAY! Now some politicians and political pundits would like to tell you that it’s a mental health problem, not a gun problem, but every country has a mental health problem (except, perhaps, Bhutan) but no country has as many gun deaths as America does.

The timing for the release of the remake of the 1974 film, DEATH WISH, couldn’t be worse… or perhaps it couldn’t be better. It all depends on which side of the gun control debate you see yourself on. Much like the original version, this updated story doesn’t hold anything back, which shouldn’t be too surprising as it is directed by Eli Roth (INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS), who is known for his brutally violent films that include scenes that can best be described as “torture porn”. In this version, the story has moved from New York City to Chicago, which makes sense as Chicago saw 3,550 shooting incidents and 4,349 shooting victims in 2016, numbers that are higher than in both Los Angeles and New York, which are larger cities. Paul Kersey is still the story’s antihero but instead of being an architect, he’s now a trauma surgeon, saving the lives of both victims and shooters. One night while Paul (Bruce Willis, the DIE HARD franchise) is at the hospital, three masked men enter his house ostensibly to rob it. In the process, they threaten his wife, Lucy (Elizabeth Shue, BATTLE OF THE SEXES), and daughter, Jordan (Camila Morrone), but things go awry and they shoot the two women, killing Lucy and putting Jordan in a coma before taking off with the contents of the family’s safe. As much as the police would like to solve the crime, Paul believes that justice can only be had if he takes it into his own hands. So, the man who saves lives during the day becomes a vigilante at night, protecting Chicago’s vulnerable from the city’s gangs and various thugs.

Tone deafness aside, my biggest problem with the story can be boiled down to just three words – home security system. The Kerseys live in a nice house in the upscale Lakeshore area of the city yet they don’t have door or window alarms installed. However, the guys who come to rob them don’t know that. So what did they expect to accomplish by going there – that the Kerseys would just let them in the front door? To add to the story’s implausibility, even after his house is robbed and his wife is killed, Paul still doesn’t install a security system. It’s very nice that he gets a gun but what about those times when he’s not home? Then there is the matter of a surgeon becoming a vigilante killer. Of course, it can be possible but it’s highly unlikely.

To the film’s credit, though, Willis is the right actor to play Kersey. At age 63, he can still be believable as a tough guy. (His fans will be pleased to know that he’s rumoured to be involved in the new DIE HARD film. Yes, there’s going to be one, apparently, because the major Hollywood studios only do superhero films and reboots these days.) Sylvester Stallone was first considered for the Kersey role but he bowed out due to “creative differences”, which was probably a smart move as he’s almost 72 – not that that is old these days but “tough” would have been a stretch. Vincent D’Onofrio (perhaps best known for his starring role in TV’s LAW & ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT; THE JUDGE) plays Kersey’s loser-but-dedicated brother, Frank. This role is really beneath D’Onofrio’s huge talent but the casting was inspired because he looks like he could be Willis’ brother.

If you’re a card-carrying member of the NRA or you feel that everyone should be carrying a gun and taking justice into their own hands, you’re going to love this film. If not, you’re better off saving yourself the internal rage and giving DEATH WISH a huge miss.

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live in RTHK Radio 4’s studio on Thursday, June 14th at 8:30 am HK time!

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