BARE BONES: DEATH WISH (2018)

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DEATH WISH (2018)

Dr. Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis), a surgeon in crime ridden Chicago, turns vigilante when his wife and daughter (Elisabeth Shue and Camila Morrone) are victims of a home invasion gone bad. Now he roams the streets hunting the perps down and killing other criminals becoming a media sensation known as “The Grim Reaper”.

Awful remake is directed by Eli Roth from a terrible script by Joe Carnahan. Film has none of the effectiveness of the Charles Bronson classic and is sometimes downright stupid, such as in the way Kersey gets his first gun, or in the blatant convenience of his first clue in finding the men who broke into his home. Film takes away the dynamic of a man frustrated and angry and simply taking it out on random criminals, by having Willis’ Kersey able to hunt down the actual men who killed his wife and severely wounded his daughter. He does kill random criminals in between, but this version gives Kersey his revenge on the actual perpetrators, thus granting him the satisfaction of that vengeance. It was more effective that Bronson’s Kersey was robbed of that satisfaction and thus the lack of closure fuels his attempts to clean up the streets…kinda like Batman. It also put’s names and identities on the gang who committed the crime, when in the original they were random street punks representing the almost lawlessness of a city out of control. It gives Willis specific people to hunt where Bronson was as random as the thugs he killed. It becomes just another revenge flick. Film also changes the location of the story from New York to Chicago…where Bronson’s Kersey went after being asked to leave NYC…but that is the least of it’s problems. Finally, Willis is simply starting to look too old for this kind of stuff.

-MonsterZero NJ

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: DEATH WISH (1974)

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DEATH WISH (1974)

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Death Wish is a classic film and one of the most renown for legendary star Charles Bronson before Cannon Films turned it into a overblown franchise. The grim tale is of Paul Kersey (Bronson), a successful NYC architect with a beautiful daughter (Kathleen Tolan) and a loving wife (Hope Lang). The crime rate in the city is rising and it hits home for Kersey as a group of thugs (including a young Jeff Goldblum) targets his wife and daughter. His wife is beaten to death and his daughter brutally raped to the point of being non-resposive. The peaceful, former combat medic then changes his liberal thinking and takes to the streets to teach the criminal element a lesson…one bullet at a time.

The film is based on a book by Brian Garfield and written for the screen by Wendell Mayes. Michael Winner was chosen to direct, having worked with Bronson before on The Mechanic and The Stone Killer. Winner has a very by-the-numbers directing style and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing as anything flashier would have taken this into exploitation territory, which it skates quite close to already. The scene of the thugs assaulting Kersey’s wife and daughter is still as brutally effective as it was back in 1974 and it gives us reason to be behind Kersey when he starts slimming the NYC mugger population. The scenes of Bronson stalking the streets are effective, as is the turmoil inside the NYC police department when they realize someone is doing their job with far more brutal efficiency. There is obviously violence and Winner does give the NYC streets of that era a very desolate look at night, where danger does lurk on every corner. If the film stumbles, it’s for an over-obvious trip to Arizona that introduces Kersey to a community not afraid to bare arms and even has him returning to NYC with a gift of a six shooter. It’s a big plot contrivance to get Kersey armed and in kill mode and thankfully the film settles down to a more down to earth second half when Kersey becomes a vigilante folk hero cleaning up the streets. Racial issues are touched on briefly, but not made a major issue and the script does lay out some sequences and dialog that seem a bit corny at this point in time. There is an effective score by Herbie Hancock and Arthur J. Ornitz captures the urban jungle quite nicely with his camera work. A film that resonated with audiences at a time where NYC was more known for it’s crime wave than it’s Broadway shows.

The cast is top notch. Bronson does the stone faced performance that he is famous for, though does give Kersey some heart especially in the early scenes with his family and the aftermath of the attack. He takes the tough guy thing down a few notches so Kersey is believable as a normal family man driven to drastic measures for revenge. Hope Lang paints a portrait of a loving wife and mother in her brief screen time and it helps makes us sympathetic to her cruel end. Vincent Gardenia is the NY cop caught between catching a killer and the political backlash of the vigilante lowering the crime rate. Steven Keats is also effective as Kersey’s son-in-law and conveys his heartache well. Some future stars also appear as muggers, such as the before mentioned Jeff Goldblum, an uncredited Denzel Washington and Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, who would become a star in Cooley High and on Welcome Back Kotter a year later.

Death Wish may be a little dated, especially since the NYC clean-up of the early 90s, but it’s strength still remains. It’s a story of an average man driven to desperate acts to avenge the brutal crimes randomly committed on his loved ones. It portrays NYC as a crime ridden jungle with Bronson doing what he is a film legend for and stalking the stalkers. Sure some of the dialog is corny, and it can be a bit over obvious too…especially the contrived Arizona scenes…but is still an effective thriller even today and has the guts to not give it’s story a neat and clean ending either. Death Wish spawned a bunch of imitators, including the trash classic The Exterminator and it’s own franchise that brought Kersey and his guns out for four more movies. Now there is talk of a remake.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 bullets.

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