Wednesday 13 May 2020

Movie Review: Death Wish (2018)

A remake of the classic Charles Bronson vigilante thriller, Death Wish is a serviceable update without breaking any dramatic new ground.

Chicago is overrun by a deadly crime wave with dozens of shootings daily. Dr. Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis) is a leading hospital surgeon and operates on victims and perpetrators. He also financially supports his brother Frank (Vincent D'Onofrio), who has a chequered history with the law. On the night of his birthday Paul's family is targeted by home invaders, resulting in the death of wife Lucy (Elisabeth Shue) and leaving daughter Jordan (Camila Morrone) in a coma.

With police detectives Raines (Dean Norris) and Jackson (Kimberly Elise) not making much progress towards solving the crime, Kersey turns to vigilante justice. Armed with an illegally obtained handgun he takes to the streets and starts confronting and killing criminals. He then stumbles upon clues identifying the gang members responsible for Lucy's death, and goes after them.

The 2018 version of Death Wish does many things right. The build-up is deliberate, affording director Eli Roth appropriate time to surround Paul, Lucy and Jordan Kersey with a warm blanket of sympathy. And after the crime is committed, Roth again allows Paul to go through a grieving process and creates space for due process.

So it's only at around the halfway point that the real action starts, with Kersey taking his first tentative steps towards a one-man city clean-up job. He is far from perfect, mishandling his weapon, injuring his hand and allowing his intervention to be filmed. Then he gains a taste for it, and once the opportunity presents itself to properly avenge Lucy, Death Wish becomes a proper, old-fashioned Bruce Willis movie.

And Willis is in fine form, staying within himself and taking the most out of a Joe Carnahan script that avoids wisecracks in favour of grit and some moments of blood-drenched gore. While the movie never threatens to enter into a serious debate about vigilante justice and who gets to dole out punishment, Roth sprinkles enough references to both sides of the argument and purposefully swims away from the shallowest end of the genre pool.

Vincent D'Onofrio's role is underwritten and an obvious weak spot, but with plenty of well-edited action scenes to hustle the story along, Death Wish blasts its way to a satisfying exhibition of blood-for-blood righteousness.

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