Death Wish Review: An unnecessary, lifeless remake
An unfaithful remake that doesn't play out as a narrative with an eye on the societal problems of the day
Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis) is a surgeon, and as his job involves him saving lives, he naturally abhors violence. He goes to a Sunday football game to see his daughter play, where a grouchy old man mouths expletives at the players to encourage them to play better. Paul, who sees this, asks him to ease off. But when the old man readies himself for a fight, Paul’s wife steps in between to protect him, and the old guy taunts him with hiding behind his wife. In another moment, Paul, while on one of his regular walks across the Chicago streets, calls out a couple of young men harassing a girl and gets a proper beating. Such is the life of this hero.
The film opens with an establishing shot that ends with Paul calling the death of a gunshot victim, after which, he coolly walks across the hall and tries to save the life of the perpetrator of the gun violence as the exasperated cop looks on. This helpful, non-violent, meticulous surgeon’s life, however, is thrown upside down when his home is invaded by three burglars. During the burglary which goes wrong, he suffers great personal loss. With Detectives Rainer (Dean Norris) and Jackson (Kimberly Elise) taking over the case and not giving satisfactory answers, our hero decides to find out the identities of the burglar-turned-murderers himself.
Director: Eli Roth
Cast: Bruce Willis, Vincent D'Onofrio, Dean Norris, Kimberly Elise
Death Wish is a remake of the 1974 film of the same name. Tamil audiences, especially of a certain age, who watch this, will be reminded of Krodham, which was also a remake of the original, way back in 1982. But unlike the original, this film doesn’t play out as a narrative with an eye on the social problems of the day. With an increasing number of questions being asked about gun ownership and regulations these days, I was unsettled by the way this film treats gun violence with almost fanboyish glee. In one particular scene, you see a diptych of the surgeon’s life shown beside the vigilante’s life that Kersey has adopted, and while a great piece of cinema, that a doctor like him can relish violence like that is something hard to stomach. Add to this the fact that the film soon starts to resemble Final Destination, undoubtedly to satiate fans of Eli Roth, and it no longer remains the story of a father in pain. To the ardent Bruce Willis fan, there are some great parallel narratives that unfold within the story, especially the climax, that harks back to his Die Hard films. But therein lies the problem. This isn’t a Die Hard film and a zombie-like Bruce Willis has called it in for Death Wish to the extent that we cannot buy into the character at all.
One character who wasn’t present in the original is Paul’s mooching brother, Frank Kersey, played by Vincent D’Onofrio. While you tend to think he is the Chekhov’s gun that will be fired sometime towards the end of the story—and trust me D’Onofrio makes you believe that he is important whenever he gets the screen time—the film unfortunately proves to be a dampener there too. I really wished that this retelling of a controversial film could have at least been coherent in its narrative, but the only coherency comes from the black talk-radio host in the film, who also acts as its conscience. In the end, one can only wish that Death Wish had remained buried and not been exhumed for this lifeless remake.