Movie Review: “Death Wish” – Fox News: The Movie

Written by Jeremiah Greville March 11, 2018

Death Wish

Death Wish would be a tone deaf movie if it were released at any time in the last couple years. However, it came out just weeks after the horrific school shooting in Parkland, Florida, and it’s impossible to completely disentangle the movie from the current cultural debate. This isn’t the movie’s fault, or director Eli Roth’s, or Scott Free or MGM productions. But Death Wish does seem to plant its flag firmly in the gun debate, and appeal to one side — and one side alone. The movie feels dangerously close to gun rights propaganda, despite the director’s insistence that Death Wish is anything but. I’ve seen Death Wish, and it’s not a movie about grief, or family, or loss. It is a revenge fantasy that revolves around gun ownership and the power that it provides. Sometimes those can be good. This one isn’t.

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

Death Wish is a remake of the 1974 Charles Bronson film of the same name, based on the novel by Brian Garfield. It stars Bruce Willis as Paul Kersey, a trauma surgeon who becomes a vigilante after his wife and daughter are attacked in their home. His wife (Elizabeth Shue) is murdered, and his daughter (Camila Morrone) is put into a coma. Dean Norris and Kimberly Elise play detectives searching for his wife’s killer, while Vincent D’Onofrio plays his younger brother, Frank. The meat of the film revolves around Kersey’s vigilante activities and evasion of the cops, and that aspect is by far the most interesting. There’s very little else to recommend or praise.

“Police only come after the crime.”

I have an offbeat way of judging how films might be before I see them. Yes, yes, I know how that sounds. You see, I watch the trailers. The types of trailers playing before most films are a good indication of the type of audience filmmakers and movie studios are expecting. Superhero and other big-budget action trailers play before most Marvel films, but not before most romantic comedies. You get the idea. The trailers playing before Death Wish were what I like to call ‘Old People Trailers’ — a mix of hallmark films, southern dramas, and smaller releases staring celebrities well past their prime. No gritty action films, not a lot of explosions. Does that sound right to you? Me neither.

Death Wish

But it falls perfectly in line with what a racist aunt might watch on a Tuesday afternoon. Just like Fox News. The movie begins with a slew of radio news touting Chicago — where the movie’s set — as a crime-ridden wasteland. In fact, one of the primary differences between this and the original Death Wish is a focus on how Kersey’s actions are regarded in the media. And guess what? Apart from one black man and one black woman (hey, representation!), the media loves him. They dub him the ‘Grim Reaper’ and the very next day after his first murder, he’s a celebrity. There’s only the faintest bit of lip service paid to whether or not his crimes are moral, and it’s from those two dissenters.

“He saved my life. He’s a guardian angel.”

This is a film where we watch a middle-aged white man walk into a black neighbourhood, wearing a hoodie, and shoot black people in broad daylight. Hell, nevermind the context — does that sound like a good idea considering ANY news in the past decade? Death Wish is a film that touts itself as a realistic look at vigilantism, yet features a guy getting killed by an ‘accidental bowling ball’. It’s as cartoonish as it is grotesque as it is tone-deaf. It starts with a homicide and ends with a gluten joke. The only true emotional performance in the film is D’Onofrio’s horror that he’s even in it. The only emotional response Death Wish demands of its viewers is a ‘Hell yeah!’ at gun violence, and maybe an erection every time Willis cleans the thing.

Death Wish

I’m not joking when I say that this film is gun propaganda. Apart from Kersey obtaining his first gun illegally, the film spends a long time going into gun sales, maintenance, preparation, and proper use with a right-wing fervour that’s hard to miss. He’s the ‘good guy with a gun’ that advocates always dreamed there would be. Too bad he’s fiction. Too bad he always was. And here’s where I spoil the ending, where Kersey gets away with it all. Where the white detective investigating him ignores the stolen gun and his crimes — despite knowing all about them. Because justice, I guess. It’s not like Kersey is the first white guy to get away with shooting crimes. Hey, there’s that pesky reality bleeding in again!

“I did everything I was supposed to do.”

I have to put it bluntly: this movie is for one side of the political spectrum only, and that’s a shame. The single element of the film that sort of works is Kersey’s attempts to stay ahead of the cops. Death Wish never hides the fact that he’s a criminal, and the best parts are the ones where we see how he evades the authorities. But Willis is barely engaging through any of it, and since there’s no consequence in the end, it all becomes meaningless. The action scenes aren’t original, and there’s no human emotion to back them up. The focus is never on Kersey’s trauma or emotional state — in fact, he’s depicted as perfectly sane and reasonable right up to the end. His brother, D’Onofrio, the guy calling him on his shit? He’s the jittery weirdo, of course. Never the white guy with the gun, shooting people.

Death Wish

It’s hard not to sound biased here, especially considering the politics involved. If the film had ended with some sort of message or consequence, then my opinion might be different. But it didn’t. This is a movie about gun violence and the media, and nothing more. Death Wish is conservative gun porn masquerading as cinema. The best parts lead up to nothing, and despite being well-shot, the story goes nowhere. It’s a waste of time that feels much longer than it should, with a bland introduction and a predictable finale. The film starts with a literal flatline flashing on screen, and ends with one too. I can’t think of anything more appropriate. Death Wish is dead on arrival.

My Rating: 4.5/10

Death Wish Poster

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About Jeremiah Greville

Jeremiah Greville is a pretty rad beard that's attached itself to a human face. The beard likes movies, television, comic books, and gentle finger rubs. The human likes pizza and sleep. When they work together, they write reviews. Hope you enjoy them!

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