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Death Wish Review

March 5, 2018 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
Death Wish
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Death Wish Review  

Death Wish Review

Bruce Willis– Dr. Paul Kersey
Vincent D’Onofrio– Frank Kersey
Elisabeth Shue– Lucy Kersey
Camila Morrone– Jordan Kersey
Dean Norris– Detective Kevin Raines
Kimberly Elise– Detective Leonore Jackson
Beau Knapp– Knox
Len Cariou– Ben
Jack Kesy– The Fish
Ronnie Gene Blevins– Joe
Kirby Bliss Blanton– Bethany
Wendy Crewson– Dr. Jill Klavens
Mike Epps– Dr. Chris Salgado

Directed by Eli Roth
Screenplay by Joe Carnahan, based on the novel by Brian Garfield and the 1974 motion picture by Wendell Mayes

Distributed by MGM

Rated R for strong bloody violence and language throughout
Runtime– 107 minutes


Death Wish, directed by Eli Roth, really isn’t a remake of the 1974 Charles Bronson original. Instead, it’s more of an amalgamation of the first two Death Wish movies, taking various elements from both movies to make a whole new one. It’s a good strategy since, at its heart, Death Wish wants to be a crowd pleasing revenge movie, and it generally succeeds. I’m not sure Bruce Willis was the best choice for the lead, but at the same time this is the best movie he’s been in in quite a while.

Willis stars as Dr. Paul Kersey, a trauma surgeon in Chicago. He lives a pretty sweet life, with a beautiful wife (Lucy, as played by the always awesome Elisabeth Shue), a daughter (Jordan, as played by Camila Morrone) getting ready to go to college, and a good job at the hospital. His brother Frank (Vincent D’Onofrio) is a bit of a mess, but he seems to have a good heart (dude just needs a job). Kersey’s life is turned upside down, though, when his wife and daughter are attacked during a burglary led by professional scumbag Knox (Beau Knapp) and his crew of miscreants (Joe, as played by Ronnie Gene Blevins, The Fish, as played by Jack Kesy, and there’s one other guy who I can’t remember the name of at the moment). In the aftermath, Lucy dies and Jordan ends up in a coma. As you’d expect, Kersey is distraught over the whole thing. How could something like this happen, even in Chicago, one of the most violent cities in the United States? To Kersey, it just didn’t make sense.

So Kersey tries to continue on with his life as best he can. He hangs out with Jordan at the hospital every chance he gets, reading to her, and he tries to maintain a relationship with Frank. Life just isn’t the same, though. The cops in charge of the investigation, Detectives Raines and Jackson (Dean Norris and Kimberly Elise), don’t seem to have many leads, but they seem to be confident that, at some point, something will happen and they will find the killers. At first, Kersey seems to share their confidence in finding the killers. That shared confidence dissipates, though, as time goes on. How can they not find Lucy’s killer?

While all of that is going on, Kersey also starts to question whether or not he did enough to protect his family from harm. Should he have done more? Could he have done more? Talking with Lucy’s father Ben (Len Cariou) leads Kersey to believe that he failed (a street beating by two thugs also leads Kersey in that direction). Kersey decides to get a gun. At first, he tries to obtain one legally, but the background checks and whatnot are too long and cumbersome for what he wants to do, so Kersey manages to snag a gun from a shot up gang member in the hospital and then figures out how to use it.

After watching some videos on the internets and engaging in some shooting practice (Kersey gets better with each practice session), Kersey decides to put on a hoodie and go out looking for bad guys to take down. Almost immediately he walks into a carjacking and shoots and kills the two carjackers (Kersey also injures himself when the gun slide takes a chunk out of his hand). The whole incident was caught on video by a young woman who had her phone handy and uploaded to the internets. The video goes viral, and Kersey is the talk of the town. He’s given a nickname, the Grim Reaper, and suddenly the local talk radio shows are talking about whether or not it’s a good idea for someone to walk the streets and kill people. Sway, who does some sort of hip hop radio show on SiriusXM (I guess. I really don’t know), is against what Kersey is doing, while the annoying Mancow (I’m sorry, I just can’t stand the guy’s voice) is all for what Kersey is doing.

And so the public starts taking sides, the cops don’t know what to do, and Kersey keeps taking out bad guys left and right. Detectives Raines and Jackson have no real leads on either the Grim Reaper vigilante or on who killed Kersey’s wife. Kersey has some leads, though, and he starts taking them down one by one. Will Kersey find the killers and take them all out before the cops figure out what the hell is going on? And will Kersey be caught, arrested, and go to jail for taking the law into his own hands?

The 1974 Death Wish had Bronson’s Kersey doling out revenge with a .32 revolver, taking down random criminals and never finding out who killed his wife and raped his daughter. Bronson’s Kersey didn’t become a focused revenge machine until Death Wish II, and he did it in a different city (the first movie took place in New York City, the second in Los Angeles) and he was after a group of criminals who raped and killed his daughter and his housekeeper. Kersey killed some other bad guys in that movie, but he was generally focused on a specific set of criminals. The original Death Wish is more of a horror movie than anything else, while the sequel, while sleazy as hell, is a more satisfying revenge story because Kersey takes out the bad guys who destroyed his life. For this remake, Roth and screenwriter Joe Carnahan basically take the first part of part one and then glom on the stalk and kill part of part two. And, as I said at the beginning, it’s a good strategy for a crowd pleasing action revenge story. There’s very little plot nuance here. There are bad guys Willis’s Paul Kersey needs to take out, and we get to see him take them out. And what’s wrong with that? As long as it’s done well, that’s all that really matters.

I’ve never been a fan of Eli Roth. I’ve found him to be a generally boring director and I didn’t see him as a good choice for this remake. Why not give someone like John Hyams the chance to direct instead? Roth doesn’t do anything particularly special with Death Wish outside of some spectacular gore sequences, but he also doesn’t do a bad job, either. Roth shoots the action well, knows how to make the aftermath of gun violence look nasty and terrible, and does things in a straightforward way. There’s no hip and edgy bullshit on display here. I always appreciate that kind of thing.

Now, the gore may put some people off. There’s a great body explosion scene when Kersey drops a car on a guy (the “jack” scene that’s in all of the commercials). There’s also a great scene where a guy falls off a set of stairs and slams into the ground, breaking his neck in a loud and grotesque manner. And the bit where Kersey tries to repair his own shoulder wound is absolutely disgusting.

The “political” aspects of the story seem to be there just to give the movie some “controversy”/”juice,” but if you’re looking for a movie that’s pro anything beyond being pro revenge you’ll be disappointed. There’s some discussion of the gun issue, but not exactly in the way you expect since Death Wish has a reactionary/right wing reputation (check out how Kersey gets his gun. The movie doesn’t say whether or not the way he gets it is good or bad, it’s just what he does). And the whole “Sway/Mancow” bits are there to, I guess, add a local Chicago flavor to the movie alongside the pizza on display. We don’t really see either one of those guys get into a major conversation about what’s happening (will that be saved for the movie’s home video release?).


Bruce Willis does a decent job as Paul Kersey. I don’t think I would have cast him as Kersey (I do believe that Liam Neeson was in line to be Paul Kersey at one point. He would have been an interesting choice. And Vincent D’Onofrio would have been a good choice, too) but he makes it work. He doesn’t come off as bored, which is what I was worried about when I found out that Willis was cast as Kersey. He’s good, as expected, in the movie’s action scenes, and he has good chemistry with both Elizabeth Shue and Camila Morrone. His only really lame scene is the one where he tries to justify what he’s doing to D’Onofrio’s Frank. The beginning of his answer just sounds wrong and then it just trails off.

Dean Norris is hilarious as Detective Raines. He’s a solid cop, sure, but he doesn’t come off as all that enthusiastic about his job. He isn’t necessarily cynical but he’s damn close to it. And Kimberly Elise does a good job as his partner Detective Jackson. She’s a little more enthusiastic about her job, but not much. I’d love to see a show or a sequel of these two working day in and day out in Chicago. I bet it would be funny.

Elisabeth Shue isn’t in the movie all that long but she does a great job as Lucy Kersey. It’s a damn shame we don’t get to see that cake she wanted to make for her husband’s birthday. And Camila Morrone is decent as Jordan Kersey. She’s in a coma for most of the movie, but she does have a nice scene towards the end of the movie. You’ll know it when you see it. And Vincent D’Onofrio is terrific as Frank Kersey. As I said, I would have loved to see him as the main Kersey, but he does a great job with Frank.

Beau Knapp is brilliant as Knox, the head bad guy. He knows how to make Knox an absolute piece of shit, and I love that. How often do we see truly reprehensible villains these days?

The performance of the movie, though, belongs to Len Cariou as Ben, the cantankerous father of Shue’s Lucy. He’s in the movie for about three minutes, but it’s a brilliant three minutes. He does a eulogy, he drives around like a maniac, and he whips out his Winchester pump and starts shooting at some poachers on his farm. The guy is a ball of goddamn energy. And his “a man has to protect his family” speech is great stuff.

Where the hell does Mike Epps go? He’s in the movie towards the beginning as a fellow doctor at the hospital, but then he just disappears. So, again, where did he go? Why didn’t he have a bigger part? Maybe we’ll find out when the movie hits home video. Maybe.

Death Wish the remake is a decent movie. It isn’t a classic or all that exceptional, but it is a solid action revenge movie. I think you’ll have a good time with it if and when you decide to go see it.

Oh, and if you do, stay through the end credits. AC/DC’s “Back in Black” plays through most of them, and it sounds amazing in a movie theater. Top notch stuff.

See Death Wish. See it, see it, see it.

So what do we have here?

Dead bodies: At least 11.

Explosions: None.

Nudity?: None. And that’s strange for a Death Wish movie.

Doobage: Off screen street crime, a badly wounded cop, a pretty swank watch, sort of pacifism, soccer, an open window, attempted sexual assault, face slashing, pot of boiling water to the face, off screen shooting, a funeral, impromptu off road driving, Winchester pump hooey, multiple therapy sessions, clothes smelling, batting cage hooey, a murder board, a funny gun shop commercial, a tactical coffee table, used weapons, gun stealing, random street violence, shooting at carjackers, a nasty neck wound, a hand wound, multiple moments of radio personalities talking about street violence, ice cream stealing, fucking up a pawn shop/liquor store, dart through the hand, a vicious head shot, a guy slips in someone else’s blood, electric guitar to the face, blowing out the top of a guy’s head, misappropriation, cell phone breaking, a giant wrench to the balls, propofol hooey, nerve cutting, dropping a car on a guy, exploding head, copycat hooey, a bathroom shootout, some of the grossest wound fixing ever filmed, machine gun hooey, more nasty head shots, a seriously broken neck, more tactical coffee table hooey, pizza eating, attempted luggage stealing, and the famous “hand gun gesture.”

Kim Richards?: Attempted.

Gratuitous: Chicago street violence, Bruce Willis, Bruce Willis as a doctor, Beach Boys on the radio, Elisabeth Shue, family breakfast, a father losing his mind at his daughter’s soccer game, Vincent D’Onofrio, Vincent D’Onofrio talking about krav maga, Mike Epps, attempted cake making, Dean Norris, Len Cariou, Sway and Mancow, a squeegee man, Bruce Willis using public transportation, a disgusting gluten free cereal bar, no one knowing how to spell “Kersey,” a tactical coffee table, a learning how take apart and clean a gun montage, AC/DC’s “Back in Black,” recording Bruce Willis stopping a crime, donut talk, ice cream hooey, Stephen McHattie as one of the few police captains to go into a detective’s office to chew him out instead of the other way around, hot chicks bowling on TV for some reason, Bruce Willis taking out the garbage, propofol, sciatic nerve cutting, “jack,” and the famous “hand gun” gesture.

Best lines: “What? Now you’re going to go save the animal who shot him?,” “That sounded like a good scream. That sounded like a very good scream,” “I wasn’t talking to you, Lakeshore Drive,” “MJ? Bulls fan?,” “Put the fucking phone down right now,” “Tie her up. No fucking games. Or it’s game over,” “You play sports?,” “Thank you, Paul, for bringing her home,” “People rely on the police to keep them safe. That’s the problem,” “Dr. Kersey, do you think it helps? I know it does,” “I know it’s a process,” “So you’re telling me there’s nothing I can do? You can have faith. How did faith work out for them?,” “She’s in handcuffs. My daughter is in handcuffs and the men who did this are still out there,” “A LeBron fan? Me? I’ll always be a Jordan guy,” “You the ice cream man? Who the fuck wants to know? Your last customer,” “Could there be a vigilante in Chicago?,” “You look much better. I feel much better,” “Jesus, I know this kid,” “Who the fuck is Miguel?,” “Who’s Fish?,” “Fuck,” “Are you Team Reaper or not?,” “That’s my ring,” “You! We’re closed, pal,” “You that doctor? Yeah, I am that doctor,” “Who else was there?,” “I believe you, Joe,” “You’re not going to kill me? No. Jack is,” “What are you going to do, shoot me, too?,” “It’s over. It’s over,” “You going home? Yeah, I’m going home, too,” “I’ll see you around, Dr. Kersey,” “I want to buy a gun,” “Dad, why are you putting me under the stairs?,” “Dr. Kersey, stick to saving lives. You’re good at it,” and “You satisfied? No. Now I’m satisfied.”

The final score: review Good
The 411
Death Wish is a solid action revenge movie. It isn’t anything particularly special, but then it doesn’t really have to be. It’s a crowd pleaser and that’s okay. Bruce Willis is more engaged than he has been in years, which is cool to see, and Eli Roth made a good movie, Who the heck thought that would be possible? Definitely worth checking out.