Score: 3.5 stars *** out of 4 ****
Just as the 1974 “Death Wish” led to heated debate during a time of social discontent and bickering about crime, violence, and guns, this new version couldn’t have come out at a better time and by “better” I mean opportune and topical.
In the wake of the Florida high school shooting that left 17 dead, and many others injured and traumatized, the militant left has again laid the blame of the incident on an inanimate object and an organization that supports the Second Amendment. One of the great facets of this “Death Wish” is its choice to avoid taking a political stand, and instead it challenges the audience to come to their own moral conclusions. More on that in a bit.
Opening in present day Chicago, screenwriter Joe Carnahan (“Narc,” “Stretch,” “The Grey”) and director Eli Roth (the “Hostel” franchise) immediately smack us upside the head with brilliant aerial shots and voice-overs rattling off of fatality statistics in what has become the murder capital of the United States. Had this film been made 10 years ago and set in Peoria, these numbers would be viewed as exaggerated but here they are crushingly accurate and seemingly ripped from the headlines.
Dr. Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis) is all too familiar with violent death. Every day he attends to gunshot victims, most of whom don’t make it. He lives in what he thought was a good part of town but soon discovers otherwise. Called in to work on the night his wife (Elisabeth Shue) and college-bound daughter (Argentine model Camila Morrone) were taking him out for his birthday, Paul’s life is turned upside down when the two women in his life are brought to his place of work bleeding and horizontal.
Told in a caring but almost borderline resigned manner by two detectives (Dean Norris and Kimberly Elise) that there’s little they can do and he should “keep the faith,” Paul begins to take on a new mindset. A man sworn by oath to preserve life, Paul starts thinking otherwise and begins to practice his aim with a (likely stolen) pistol dropped on the operating floor by a soon-lifeless thug.
There’s no way to tip-toe around what happens next but it does walk a fine line between the legal and illegal. Paul doesn’t start any trouble but does look for it and is very willing to end it. He prevents the deaths of innocent lives and in the process saves the state of Illinois untold amounts of money in public defender and incarceration costs — all while becoming a hero (to most) in the process. After another tussle with a low-life drug-dealing gangbanger that further increases his profile, Paul gets a lead on who might be responsible for the attack on his family and he becomes laser focused on a new mission.
In watching Willis here, one can’t help but comparing Paul to Willis’ role as John McClane in the first “Die Hard” released (start feeling old) 30 years ago. Yes, John was a New York detective but was operating way out of his jurisdiction and he behaved like — admit it — a cowboy. “Yippee-ki-yay” anyone?
Although the majority of the success of “Death Wish” will depend on first run box office take (a nude Jennifer Lawrence in “Red Sparrow” will likely fare better on opening weekend), this film should (in theory) last longer in both water-cooler chatter and the debate regarding the Second Amendment. Is Willis as John or Willis as Paul doing anything all that different? Is he not taking out bad guys with guns while bending the law in both?
Consider this scenario: you are a would-be scumbag criminal canvassing a middle-class neighborhood trying to decide which one to rob. In the driveway of resident “A” is a Volvo with a “Greenpeace” sticker on the car and a Rainbow flag on the post with no fence around the property. Resident “B” drives a Cadillac or a Benz sporting a “Semper Fi” decal, flies a “Don't Tread On Me” flag and has a loud dog barking within a locked gated fence in the front yard. Which one are you going to invade?
The event in Florida on Valentine’s Day was abhorrent by anyone’s definition. It was horrible. Would changing the current gun laws (which are largely unenforced — thanks Mr. Obama) to make it harder for a psychopath to acquire deadly weapons have changed anything? Sadly, no.
If one wishes to kill people, no laws are going to stop them, period. The deplorable acts of less than one percent of the population would have no effect whatsoever on the 99 percent of the rest of us acting admirably and lawfully. If you find fault with that argument you are living in the wrong country.
Move to Switzerland. Or Russia. Or England. Or Australia. There are practically no guns there.
“Death Wish” is a work of fiction with a nod towards an alternative society that should be less fictional and more reality. If criminals become scared to the point of non-action, wouldn’t the strict adherence to the Second Amendment ultimately prove why it was warranted in the first place?
Originally from Washington, D.C., Michael Clark has written for over 30 local and national media outlets and is currently the only newspaper-based film critic providing original content in the Atlanta Top 10 media marketplace and he recently co-founded the Atlanta Film Critics Circle. Over the last two decades, Mr. Clark has written over 3,500 movie reviews and film related articles for the Gwinnett Daily Post and is one of the scant few conservative-minded U.S. critics. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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