Film Review: Death Wish

This remake of the 1974 mad-as-hell movie about urban violence is bound to become part of the current hot-button conversation about guns and personal safety, but in the end it's just another macho fantasy about "good guys" with guns.
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Chicago ER surgeon Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis) lives on the front line of urban violence: It's his job to patch up cops, criminals and innocent bystanders without fear or favor before retreating to the shelter of the quiet, suburban home he shares with beautiful wife Lucy (Elizabeth Shue), who's about to earn her long-delayed PhD, and their athletic, college-bound daughter, Jordan (Camila Morrone).

But the illusion of safety is soon punctured when a gang of burglars invade the Kersey home and leave Lucy dead and Jordan in a coma from which she may never awake. After spending some quality time with his Texas in-laws, the shattered Paul embraces the way of the gun and is quickly dubbed "the grim reaper" after a cellphone video of his first intervention (he thwarts a carjacking) lights up the social mediaverse, igniting a city-wide debate about vigilante justice.

At first glance, Eli Roth's remake of the 1974 Charles Bronson/Michael Winner film, based on the novel by Brian Garfield, seems like the right film at the right time, in line with widespread coverage of open-carry activism and the notion that teachers with side arms are the answer to school massacres.

But Death Wish v 2.0 doesn't really play out that way. Granted, the decision to make Kersey a doctor should shift the terms of the conversation—in the 1974 version he's an architect; his profession isn't inherently bound up with the Hippocratic oath—but it doesn't. Worse, Kersey the vigilante is recast as an avenging angel; he's executing a personal, if understandable, vendetta (who wouldn't want to punish brutal, murdering creeps?), rather than on a deranged holy mission to wash all the scum off the streets.

This iteration of Garfield's novel—whose conclusion makes it brutally clear that firepower is not the answer—all but demands a rousing thumbs-up for Kersey's judge-jury-executioner mission because, hey, a good man with a gun. Even the ’74 version of Death Wish, which deviates radically from the source, ultimately makes it clear that Kersey has succumbed to blood lust and is in no way a good man; Roth's version (written by Joe Carnahan) just panders to shoot-'em-up fantasies.

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