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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Mar 10, 2018

Death Wish Movie Review: Critics Will Tear It To Pieces But It Will Please Those Who Are Sick And Tired Of Police Ineptitude And Our Corrupt Justice System

‘DEATH WISH’ was first filmed in 1974 starring Charles Bronson and it’s a big hit it that spawned four sequels. We now have a reboot starring Bruce Willis this time and it’s based on the same 1972 novel of Brian Garfield on which Bronson’s version was also based. The story is still the same, about a peace-loving citizen who turns into a merciless vigilante.

If you’re looking for an Oscar calibre movie, then you should skip “Death Wish”, which is directed by Eli Roth, best known for his violent and bloody horror films like “Cabin Fever”, “Hostel 1 & 2”, “Green Inferno” and “Knock Knock”. Is there a need for a new “Death Wish”? Well, why not, since there’s a new “Tomb Raider”, for which we also don’t really have any important need.

Roth and his screenwriter, Joe Carnahan, updated “Death Wish” to the present. The original was set in New York, now in it’s a crime-infested Chicago. Bronson was an architect before, now, Bruce is a doctor, Paul Kersey, who has a successful career and a happy family life.

He competently treats both victims and perpetrators of street crime in the E.R., without knowing that his own wife (Elizabeth Shue) and daughter who’s about to go to college (Camilla Morrone), would soon be the next victims themselves. His wife dies when a trio of goons break into their home, while his daughter becomes comatose.

The movie is released right after the horrible shooting in a Florida high school where 17 people were killed and it started protest rallies calling for a gun ban. This movie shows exactly how easy it is really to buy assault weapons in the U.S. The sequence showing Bruce in a gun store really gave us the creeps, with the salesgirl even demonstrating to him how easy it is for them to get the necessary gun permits without any hassle through the magic of corruption.

Bruce realizes how impossible it is for the cops to track down the killers of his wife when he saw
how many open cases of crime are indicated on the board of the cop assigned on his case (Dean Norris). He once tried to help a crime victim on the street but he gets beaten up by the thugs instead.

Eventually, he gets a chance to own a criminal’s gun by accident and starts taking matters into his own hands, first killing two carnappers. This was recorded by a bystander on a cellphone and uploaded on the internet. This earned Bruce the tag The Grim Reaper and he became a controversial figure in the media, with people debating whether what he’s doing is a commendable heroic act or a felonious crime.

Bruce here is luckier because he eventually tracks down his wife’s killers and make them pay, something that Bronson failed to do in the original movie. Violent action films like this may be just another hack exploitation flick that critics will enjoy tearing into pieces like the original, but for city dwellers who are tired of ever escalating crimes of robber and murder, this will strike a chord and deliver well in serving its cathartic purpose as a crowdpleaser, especially when we consider how incompetent and delinquent our police force can be and how corrupt our own justice is right now.

The movie is no doubt gory and violent (especially with the brutal way Bruce gets rid of his daughter’s would be rapist in the garage), but it has an emotional core buttressed by Bruce Willis’ finely modulated performance. He does well as a man who goes through hell when he experienced a senseless tragedy and returns to his sanity after taking the law into his own hands. His journey makes us feel that vigilante justice is morally warranted in these days of police ineptitude. The cops here didn’t really do anything and, in the end, when they discover who the vigilante really is, they even abet his crime with a knowing smile.

Compared to Bronson who’s so perfunctory in his role like he’s just sleepwalking, Bruce Willis interprets his role as a man whose life is torn apart in an understated manner, exhibiting grief by underlining the motives of his character and giving the narrative more sense of urgency. The sight of him walking in the streets in a hoodie also reminds us of his similarly effective performance as a crimebuster in “Unbreakable”.

Giving him competent support are Eizabeth Shue and Camila Morrone as his hapless wife and daughter, with Vincent D’Onofrio as his brother who’s the first to discover that he is really the vigilante roaming the streets of Chicago. All the actors who played the thug culprits are properly repugnant they deserve the comeuppance that they got from the hands of the avenging Bruce.

Although the narrative trajectory is already predictable, the movie is still directed with a workmanlike efficiency and a wicked glint by Roth to induce some thrilling moments. There are even unapologetic scenes that are oddly likeable, especially for those who wallow in ruthless revenge flicks like the brutal “John Wick” series.

The scene where Bruce cuts the thigh of a defiant bad guy and it starts bleeding then he pours out break fluid or battery acid into the wound will make you cringe, but you tell yourself that the same act should be done to the criminal who killed 17 innocent people in Florida to make him pay for his dastard deed. Your own take on the film will answer the question of what is your own stand on whether you are pro or con to capital punishment. The film’s ending showing Bruce using his fingers like a gun directed at a criminal is a direct tribute to the original where Bronson also does the same thing.