Directed by: Eli Roth
Premise: A remake of the 1974 film. A doctor’s (Bruce Willis) wife and daughter are assaulted during a burglary of their suburban home. The doctor begins patrolling the streets of Chicago with a handgun and doling out vigilante justice to street criminals.
What Works: The original Death Wish was a product of a particular place and time; it was set in New York in the 1970s and it reflected the angst and violence of its day. The filmmakers of the 2018 version find ways to update the material for a contemporary audience. The new movie takes place in Chicago, a city that in recent years has been rocked by a spike in violent crime, and that gives the Death Wish premise renewed relevance. The film also integrates social media into this version and uses it in a way that gives this Death Wish a contemporary feel and advances the plot.
What Doesn’t: There are a number of problems with the Death Wish remake but its fatal flaw is that the movie is utterly bland. This is surprising and disappointing coming from Eli Roth, a filmmaker whose work like Hostel and The Green Inferno have been viscerally compelling and politically interesting. Roth’s style is almost completely muted in Death Wish. That’s especially a shame because the 1974 film and the Brian Garfield novel upon which it is based were provocative works in their day. Given contemporary concerns about gun violence there was an opportunity to do something interesting but instead the Death Wish remake is just another Bruce Willis shoot-’em-up picture. And as in a lot of his recent movies, Willis looks bored. He’s made this movie before, he knows it, and Willis just goes through the motions of the same kind of action hero he’s played so many times before. Willis’ unflappable movie star persona is all wrong for this movie. The whole point of Death Wish is that the character is not a violent person; he’s a peaceful man pushed to violence when his wife is murdered and his daughter is beaten into a coma. None of that trauma is evident in Willis’s performance. What gave the original Death Wish its power was its righteous indignation as this man takes out his rage on street criminals. That trauma is absent from the movie. It cuts out the very thing that made Death Wish interesting in the first place. Also troubling is the way Willis’ character goes looking for his quarry. In the original film, the vigilante patrolled the streets of his own neighborhood; in the remake the character lives in the suburbs and travels into mostly black inner city communities looking for people to shoot. That, and the hoodie that Willis’ character wears during his shootouts, is culturally tone deaf. The Death Wish remake also fails to be any fun. The original Death Wish was regarded as a dangerous movie because it possessed a transgressive joy in the vigilantism and the better Death Wish sequels had a violently goofy appeal. The new Death Wish is boring. None of the set pieces are creative or memorable and much of the violence is sterile and devoid of style or impact.
Bottom Line: The remake of Death Wish carries the title but it bears almost no resemblance to either the original film or the novel nor does it make the material its own. This is a generic Hollywood shoot-’em-up and it isn’t even satisfying as that.
Episode: #689 (March 11, 2018)