Action icon Bruce Willis is back to his bad guy killing ways in Death Wish, a remake of the 1974 Charles Bronson film (which was adapted from the 1972 book by Brian Garfield). The film is a little more thought-provoking than expected, though it does not actually explore any of the ideas it raises. It aspires to be a well-made exploitation picture, and that is exactly what it is.
Willis plays Paul Kersey, a surgeon in Chicago. One night while he is at work, armed thieves break into his house. His wife, Lucy (Elisabeth Shue) is killed and his daughter, Jordan (Camila Morrone) is put into a coma. After he becomes frustrated with the lack of progress made by Detectives Raines (Dean Norris) and Jackson (Kimberly Elise), he takes matters into his own hands and becomes a vigilante avenger.
Bruce Willis has a good presence for a story like this and Jewish director Eli Roth (who also directed this Fall’s young adult novel adaptation The House with a Clock in its Walls) is successful at staging scenes to make Willis’ character look like an amateur when it comes to violence. He is never turned into a superhero to make things more exciting. The action is intense and stays consistent with the story and characters. However, it is also pretty gruesome in several instances, which makes Death Wish more about its gore and less about vigilantism and the ability of police to do their jobs well in high-crime areas.
Those concepts are introduced on the periphery of the story. Mainly, they are heard during brief snippets of local talk radio programming, with people discussing the actions of the protagonist. What he is doing is obviously illegal, but is it okay because he is acting against criminals? Or should he just leave it to the police? The movie seems to want it both ways with the way it treats its subject matter.
In the end though, it just raises those questions to add some color to its simple revenge plot. And that is just fine. Death Wish is exactly what you would think it would be. Michigan born screenwriter Joe Carnahan sneaks those ideas in to make his violent revenge tale slightly more provocative than it had to be. They are there for audience members to debate afterword, if they want. But if you just want to enjoy Bruce Willis shooting criminals, that other stuff does not get in the way.
The movie succeeds to the extent that it does because Bruce Willis knows exactly what to do in a movie like this. Additionally, Eli Roth paces things very well. He balances the drama of a man dealing with a sudden, unexpected tragedy and the action aspect of the story successfully.
In the end, Death Wish is an effective, well-made, film that is just not that interesting to watch. Willis and the overall production were good enough to keep me occupied, but I never cared about Paul Kersey and I was not particularly thrilled by the action. Action-wise, it is precisely what you would expect from a Death Wish remake directed by Eli Roth and starring Bruce Willis in 2018. But in terms of its drama, it leaves a lot to be desired.
2¾ out of 5
By Ben Pivoz
Ben’s Movie Reviews
Read Ben’s last movie review on Annihilation.