Restrained for both a Death Wish Film and Eli Roth film.
Death Wish (2018): 6 out of 10: Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis) is a surgeon with a lovely wife (Elisabeth Shue) and daughter (Camila Morrone). This being a movie called Death Wish after about twenty minutes, the wife is dead, and the daughter is in a coma from a botched robbery. Next thing you know Bruce Willis is both hunting down the perpetrators of the home invasion and giving other scum a taste of their own medicine in the bloody streets of Chicago.
Death Wish is a bit of a strange bird. It is nowhere near as awful as critics made it out to be, but it is undoubtedly a disappointment from what you would expect with the phrase Death Wish directed by Eli Roth.
The Good: There are a lot of little touches that add up in this film. The way the criminals target Willis for the house robbery is very well done. The whole relationship between Willis and his brother (Vincent D’Onofrio) belongs in a better movie. Also, Death Wish is a well-directed movie from a pure keeping the camera on the action and in focus kind of way.
There is also some subtle humor peeking around the corner. Willis visits a gun shop that almost seems a cheerful parody of such things and one of the kill scenes is more Looney Tunes with a Rube Goldberg bowling ball than a straightforward action scene.
Where does this rank among Death Wish films?: I am not sure if this belongs under The Bad or a different category, so I am sticking it here. The Death Wish remake is remarkably restrained. Very restrained for an Eli Roth movie and extremely restrained for a Death Wish movie. Nether Kersey’s wife or daughter are raped (A mainstay for the Death Wish series, which some critics have hilariously taken to calling a tradition. As if it was your aunt’s candied yams with raisins at Thanksgiving) and the killings are, with one exception, nothing you wouldn’t see on an episode of The Shield.
Now I am not sure this is a bad thing. I highly doubt that the box office was inundated with people demanding their money back because there was no Elisabeth Shue rape scene. On the other hand, it makes it more of a generic revenge movie than the bonkers exploitation that defines the first three Death Wish movies. I just can’t see myself watching this again. I will watch Death Wish 3 every time I stumble across it. The original Death Wish has Jeff Goldblum as a murdering rapist dressed as if he was trying out for an audition for The Warriors. Death Wish II is a wildcard, as some days I think it is the greatest exploitation film ever. Other days, I think it is a stain on our society (The I Spit on Your Grave conundrum).
The Bad: Bruce Willis is okay in the movie. I think he was miscast. I know he has spent the last few years hanging out with Nicolas Cage and John Cusack in some sort of DTV hell traveling from Mobile, Alabama on to Pittsburgh, PA and then to Slovenia to put in his ten-minute cameo as bank president, evil bank president, and neighbor with the gun collection. So it’s good to see him in a film where his costar isn’t from Felicity.
I think the filmmakers missed an opportunity to cast against type for the role. Now your dream casting would be Tom Hanks dressed in a Mister Rogers sweater. Jeff Goldblum from the original Death Wish would have been another brilliant piece of stunt casting. If you want to go younger, Harry Styles would be an inspired choice. We have seen Bruce Willis do this a thousand times (The film initially had Liam Neeson connected to it which would have been even worse) A reboot like this needs a fresh take.
Few things get my goat faster in a film than when the characters’ actions are debated on local media. It’s the kind of thing you expect in an Adam Sandler movie or a romantic comedy (The whole city is talking about the marriage proposal that was a bust but first genocide in Rwanda). The endless talk radio bits with Mancow and some others are over the top. If Chicago is such a crime-ridden city, why would the shooting of two criminals by a white guy in a hoodie even get traction? It wasn’t like he was dressed as the Easter Bunny.
The Ugly: You know some movie critics will have to explain what they were talking about. They greeted this film with the vitriol one usually reserves for a Kirk Cameron movie called A Day without Jews.
It’s a crime revenge film – a competent one. There has not exactly been a lack of these over the years. It is a form of urban western. Death Wish is remarkably toned down from the original source. (Can you imagine someone releasing Death Wish 2 in theaters today?). As for politics, I am not sure what Death Wish has to do with school shootings or police brutality. No schools are shot, and no police shoot their firearms in this movie. Does the film glorify guns and vigilante violence? Yes, it does much as Godzilla films glorify giant monsters stomping cities. It is a fantasy movie. Most people can separate movies from real life.
If Death Wish has a flaw, it is that crime overall is pretty isolated in Chicago. The movie would have worked better in Seattle or San Francisco where crime is more spread out or perhaps a New Orleans or Baltimore where the urban decay more closely matches the 1974 original.
In reality, though Death Wish is an action film that is barely an exploitation film and not the bloodstained act of violence some individual members of the media strangely painted it as.
In Conclusion: For a Death Wish film from Eli Roth, it has little of what makes either Death Wish Films or Eli Roth movies interesting.