D: Eli Roth / 107m
Cast: Bruce Willis, Vincent D’Onofrio, Elisabeth Shue, Camila Morrone, Dean Norris, Beau Knapp, Kimberly Elise, Len Cariou, Jack Kesy, Ronnie Gene Blevins
Paul Kersey (Willis) is a trauma surgeon working at a Chicago hospital. He has a wife, Lucy (Shue), and a teenage daughter, Jordan (Morrone), who is about to go off to college. One night, while Kersey is working, three burglars break into his home while everyone is out, but Lucy and Jordan return while they’re still there. Lucy is killed, and Jordan suffers a skull fracture that leaves her in a coma. The police, represented by Detective Kevin Raines (Norris) and Detective Leonore Jackson (Elise), offer hope that they’ll catch the men responsible, but with no leads, time passes and Kersey begins to wonder if he’ll ever have justice for his family. Angry at the police’s inability to protect people, Kersey becomes a vigilante, and earns the soubriquet The Grim Reaper. When a gunshot victim is admitted to the ER and is wearing one of Kersey’s stolen watches, it provides him with enough information to begin tracking down the men the police can’t find. But as he hunts them down, Raines and Jackson become suspicious of his actions, and the leader of the men (Knapp) targets him directly…
The idea of a remake of Michael Winner’s exploitation “classic” has been mooted for a while now (since 2006 when Sylvester Stallone was set to direct and star). There have been a few stops and starts along the way, and now we have the combination of Eli Roth and Bruce Willis, and a movie that has all the charm and appeal of applying haemorrhoid cream. There’s no other way of putting it: this incarnation of Death Wish is appalling, a right-wing political tract that lacks the courage of its own convictions, and strives for relevance in a day and age where violence is a sad, every day occurrence in the good old US of A. While talking heads debate the merits of having a vigilante on the streets of Chicago, Willis’s monotone Kersey goes on a journey of violent wish-fulfillment that screams “under-developed!” For a surgeon with no previous experience of handling a gun even, he’s able to act with impunity (he takes out a drug dealer on the street – in daylight – without being shot at by anyone), and even when he takes on the burglars, he leaves no evidence of his involvement.
So while Kersey gets away with murder, the police amble through proceedings like unwitting sleepwalkers at a narcolepsy convention (they even have time to joke about their investigation with their boss). It’s laughable, and something of an insult to the talent and skill of Joe Carnahan, the sole credited writer of this farrago, whose original script was re-written once Roth came on board. With a plethora of poorly written characters (D’Onofrio plays Kersey’s brother, but why he’s even there is impossible to work out), dialogue that sounds like a deaf person’s idea of dialogue, and Kersey’s motivations remaining murky at best, this is further sabotaged by Roth’s inability to maintain a consistent tone or invest proceedings with any appreciable energy. Willis continues to look bored out of his skull (a too common occurrence these days), the bad guys are straight out of generic villain central casting, and the action scenes are the nearest the movie comes to waking up. It has all the hallmarks of a movie that was rushed into production before the rights ran out, or worse, was rushed into production without anyone having a clear idea of what they were doing. So they truly did have a death wish…
Rating: 3/10 – abandoning any notion of moral ambiguity from the outset, Death Wish – Roth’s exploitation-free remake – is as dull as they come, and as ineptly handled as you’d expect; if you need any proof, just watch the early scene where Kersey “consoles” a cop whose partner has just died – and then hang your head in dismay.