Death Wish (2018) Review – Voices from the Balcony
Death Wish was directed by Eli Roth (Knock Knock, Hostel), written by Joe Carnahan (Boss Level, The Grey), adapted from a novel by Brian Garfield and the original screenplay by Wendell Mayes (Anatomy of a Murder , The Poseidon Adventure) and stars Bruce Willis (Survive the Night, Cosmic Sin), Vincent D’Onofrio (Escape Plan, Daredevil), Dean Norris (Breaking Bad, Fist Fight), Kimberly Elise (Ad Astra, Alpha Alert) , Beau Knapp (Mosquito State, The Signal), Ronnie Gene Blevins (Joe, What Josiah Saw), Jack Kesy (The Outpost, 12 Strong), Camila Morrone (Never Goin Back, Valley Girl) and Elisabeth Shue (The Boys, Greyhound ). It follows a doctor as he becomes a vigilante to find the men who destroyed his life and his family.
The parcel: Revenge action/crime movies have been around since the inception of film, and the original Death Wish was one of the most generic and narratively weak. This rendition is better, working through what should by all means be rote material with verve and emotion.
Esteemed surgeon Paul Kersey (Willis) lives a good life with his wife Lucy (Shue) and daughter Jordan (Morrone); one that is made better by their white-collar life. Perks include outings to fancy restaurants with Paul’s brother, Frank (D’Onofrio). However, it is during one of these dinner parties that a low-level criminal exposes thieves Knox (Knapp), Joe (Blevins), and Fish (Kesy) with Paul’s home address. While most other revenge movies are eager to work out the setup in ten minutes or less, Death Wish adds five more to good effect.
As Paul is called to work, the three thieves break into the house to find valuables. They get said wins, but they also get a fight between Lucy and Jordan, and in the ensuing fight, Lucy is killed and Jordan is put into a coma. During the trail of Detectives Raines (Norris) and Jackson (Elise), Paul learns that he’s going to have to wait a long time for evidence to come to light or suspects to be arrested if that happens. Paul isn’t going to sit idly by, and with a gun in his hands, he takes his first vigilante shot.
After his botched first attempt, Raines and Jackson hear about the “Grim Reaper” and begin to put Paul’s case high on the priority list, while Paul works through the night trying to bring justice to his family of his own. thank you. Roth handles all the ensuing plot elements very well, never stopping too long or speeding up the action, making sure to use the wonderful cast lest they be forgotten in order to go through the script.
Roth’s Death Wish is a deeply simple film plot-wise, just like the original. Unlike the original, this story flows well and isn’t a pipeline of political ideology. A vast improvement.
Characters: This journey is clearly Kersey’s, and Carnahan does a great job of creating a new, slightly different version of the character while also doing a good job with some of the supporting characters.
Paul is a solid family man, spending time with his wife, daughter, and brother when possible, however, his job frequently gets in the way. It is his reaction to their fate that makes him different from many other protagonists in this type of film. After the trauma he suffered, he can’t stand sleeping in his own room or even being on the first floor of his own house, instead spending his free time isolated in his basement, away from Frank. . Even when he starts acting, he visits Jordan in the hospital every day to spend time with her. His priorities are upright and sympathetic.
What’s better is how Death Wish incorporates Paul’s career path as a trauma surgeon into his actions and behaviors. In the opening sequence, it’s clear he’s detached from the things he sees at work, rock solid in the face of death until he’s the recipient. However, when he’s out at night fighting crime and trying to track the men responsible for tearing his family apart, he uses his medical knowledge on those who may know something in creative and gruesome ways. It’s a great way to incorporate characterization into action.
Paul’s family is also realistic in their attitudes, with Jordan, a rising athlete eager to go to college and prove herself in the world, but never forgetting her parents, even if she doesn’t want to spend her time baking a cake for her dad. Lucy had just finished her doctorate and was ready to celebrate Paul’s birthday. Interestingly, it is noted that she rules over Paul during the confrontations, further shedding light on Paul’s later actions. Frank tries to get on well with Paul, paying off his debts and watching him after the attack, just as interested in finding the killers.
These killers are the weak link in the cast. Aside from a brief dialogue between Knox and Lucy during the robbery, we learn that he is able to twist events to get out of trouble and that he did not (or did) plan on violence, but that he is now enraged at Paul. The other two are average henchmen with little to distinguish them from the countless others.
Carnahan and Willis do such a great job recreating Paul Kersey with depth and feeling that passable villains don’t dampen the story of Death Wish, we get Paul, he’s the driving force.
The crime: While this Death Wish has quite a bit of action sequences, it’s more about the path Paul takes and the cleanup he does to avoid being identified, creating a system for the main character to follow.
Roth creates a tense atmosphere during the heist, using his background in horror filmmaking to his advantage, effectively setting the tone. As a catalyst for vigilantism, it’s a balanced way to run the film. Roth illustrates the flaws in the system and the people it serves for a while, forcing Paul to wait while Raines and Jackson try to figure out the case with too many other cases in hand and not enough evidence. Paul (in an artificial way) first finds the lowest criminal and a gun with him and becomes his own type of criminal, having had enough of waiting.
The documentation of Paul’s process becoming an anti-hero is superb, he starts out as an amateur, barely able to fire his gun without cutting his hand, but it’s practice (and good samaritan) for him . Death Wish doesn’t overlook the tendency of Bronson’s entries going off on tangents to see Paul cleaning up the streets, but that doesn’t allow it to become the majority of the runtime.
After a few close calls with the law, he begins to clean up his tracks, wear concealed clothing, destroy surveillance equipment, and never buy a gun until it makes sense. He creates a sort of routine for himself and becomes adept at his new craft, recounting his improvised justice and his descent into obsession over time.
Like in the original, the criminals (not Kersey, the others) aren’t mob bosses or bank robbers, they’re thugs. Knox and Fish are good at what they do, and that’s stealing goods from unsuspecting civilians and selling any non-monetary items they get. This is important to note because the creators of this Death Wish keep the skill levels relatively even, grounding what could have been a superhero movie without capes.
The criminal actions are well captured here, everything that keeps Paul from getting caught makes sense, and the underbelly isn’t cartoonish.
The techniques : This version of Death Wish is better on almost every technical level than the original. Most notably, the script has real thought, its dialogue being earnest while allowing for a few lines instead of the silly writing of the first. There’s a satirical bite to some of the exchanges, but Carnahan doesn’t get mad about it. Speaking of satire, there are also criticisms, with diegetic radio shows discussing the “Grim Reaper” offering valid arguments about Paul’s actions. However, the film never chooses sides, only choosing to follow the character. Some scripting issues exist, such as two big gimmicks, one being the front gun, but these are rare.
Editing by veteran Mark Goldblatt (The Terminator, Chappie) is also excellent, maintaining consistent pacing and clarity during action sequences that are distinct and memorable thanks to Roth’s direction. Death Wish never overstays its welcome.
2018’s Death Wish may be Roth’s finest hour yet. It surpasses the original in every way, from the crime, to the characters, to the plot, to the acting (Willis gives one of his best performances). While the villains aren’t great, pretty much everything else is.
Death Wish is available on MGM’s Blu-ray, DVD and digital platforms. If you’re looking for more of the same, FilmTagger has some ideas.