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Death Wish – Movie Review

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Death Wish – Movie Review

Rating: D+ (Bad)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy eOne Films

Death Wish wouldn’t have worked, regardless of its release date, as it doesn’t offer much of anything beyond a gun-toting Bruce Willis acting as vigilante. This is a gratuitous and ugly film that celebrates toxic masculinity. However, the current climate that Death Wish is being released in makes it feel especially distasteful. The whole film promotes the idea that a family is incomplete without a gun and comes across like a propaganda piece for the NRA. Even putting politics aside, there’s little excitement or tension in the plot and it’s difficult to get invested in Willis’s fight against a generic band of criminals.

There is some potential early on, upon seeing the family dynamic with Willis’s Paul Kersey. It’s neat to see Elisabeth Shue again and Vincent D’Onofrio’s role as Paul’s brother oddly turns Death Wish into an Adventures in Babysitting reunion. Albeit a short-lived one as the movie wastes no time in killing off Shue and getting Paul on his revenge quest. The screenplay, credited to Joe Carnahan and adapting Brian Garfield’s book, comes up with all sorts of contrivances to give him the motivation and tools to get going. At so many points, the plot could have been resolved had he called the police and Paul stubbornly refuses to do that.

One of Death Wish’s better qualities is it doesn’t portray the detectives in a negative light or incompetent, as they’re clearly trying to find the perpetrators. However, this also makes Paul seem even worse. One begins to sympathise with Dean Norris’s detective, who now has a gun-heavy vigilante to deal with. There is no attempt at subtlety in Death Wish. Director Eli Roth fetishises the gun violence with the intention of generating a roar of approval from the audience whenever Paul kills a criminal. The violence and gore is over-the-top, especially one torture scene. That the villains are so one-note and dull, they begin to run together and it’s tricky to get excited.

The dialogue is especially on the nose, with many lines sounding verbatim like NRA talking points. That the movie begins with news broadcasts reporting on shootings already casts a cloud over the production and there is a certain uneasiness. Roth peppers in radio host discussions that pound the message over the audience’s heads. Death Wish offers little breathing room for other viewpoints as it seeks to show how every household should have a gun. There is certainly an audience that will nod their heads in approval to this message, but for those who don’t cling to the Second Amendment, the whole project is just gratuitous and in your face.

Story wise, Death Wish is just a generic action film with shoot-‘em-ups and a dull lead trying to play hero. There was room for some clever commentary on the irony of this doctor going around and killing people. However, Roth doesn’t take those opportunities and one also sees him trying to make the film more Grindhouse with the producers and investors ultimately keeping him on a leash. Politically, Death Wish is completely wrong-headed and it also falters from a poorly timed release date. However, the project would have fallen completely flat, regardless of when it landed in cinemas. Yet if there was ever a time we didn’t need a heavily pro-gun picture…


Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison