Death Wish: Movie Review

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Bruce Willis in the movie “Death Wish.” (Takashi Seida / MGM Studios / Annapurna Pictures)

Michael Khuraibet, Digital Editor-in-Chief

Eli Roth is not a director known for complexity and depth. With films such as Hostel and Cabin Fever, Roth built a reputation as a horror movie director. I actually didn’t know he directed the remake of the 1974 Charles Bronson filmDeath Wish. With it, however, I think Roth broke out of his comfort zone and by comparison, made a clever, if predictable, movie.

Death Wish (2018) stars Bruce Willis as Dr. Paul Kersey, a trauma surgeon who works in a Chicago ER saving lives. After his home is burglarized and family attacked, Kersey decides to take the law into his own hands and seek those responsible.

Of course, Willis is best known for his performance in the Die Hard franchise, as grizzled Detective John McClane; the role made him an action icon. In Death Wish, Willis plays to that, but also taps into the depth he portrayed as David Dunn in Unbreakable, who suffers much more internal conflict.

Playing the McClane-archetype, Willis as Kersey is an unexpected superhero, with witty one-liners and smart, well-timed executions (no pun intended). As the Dunn sensibilities come into play, Kersey and his brother Frank, played by Vincent D’Onofrio, address whether vigilante justice is acceptable, given the circumstances. There are also interruptions by Chicagoans who don’t know Kersey’s story, who objectively debate the morality of vigilantism.

For the film to address moral absolutism is smart and well-timed. Make no mistake, though: this is not a movie that will trigger a discussion once you leave the theater. The characters only mention whether the idea of revenge is right or wrong. As an audience member, however, when sitting in the theater with a crowd watching Bruce Willis kill criminals, the energy is electric. You want him to kill the bad guys. Whether or not he should is an argument for a different day.

Death Wish actually addresses another growing concern in a much more subtle, and perhaps unintended, manner: gun procurement. In the movie, Kersey uses a lot of tips from videos posted online about how to obtain, use, and maintain firearms. He even goes to a gun store, where the employee points out how simple the purchasing process is. The film itself doesn’t really address the issue of gun control so much as it satirizes the current system in the United States.

The film looks great and is very well made; cinematically, each shot makes sense. The plot and the script, without question, are formulaic for this genre. Not many films can bring a lot of depth to this kind of story. That said, there is something charming about the film.

Death Wish is a fun, indulgent movie that is even better with a group of friends. This kind of movie doesn’t serve as a catalyst for any sort of social change, despite making mention of a few issues. If those are the kind of films you’re after, look for those on Sunday at the Academy Awards. Instead, think of this as Roth’s best work, which could either be a compliment or an insult. When you see it, you’ll know for sure.