It is difficult to critique a film like Death Wish without opening the door to a political firestorm. Since the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, gun control continues to be splashed across news reports around the world. Everyone inside and outside of the media has a justified and emotionally charged opinion on the subject. As the passions run deep throughout the world, director Eli Roth (The Green Inferno) may see the timing of the release of his latest film as bad luck or potentially as a means of gaining a degree of publicity. Regardless of how things may be considered, inevitably this film has been thrown into the hotly debatable discussion on violent crime.
It has been 24 years since the unsuspecting vigilante played by Charles Bronson hit the streets to initiate his own form of justice. Paul Kersey (Willis) is a celebrated surgeon at a Chicago hospital and has made a significant life for himself and his family on Lake Shore Drive. The doctor and his wife, Lucy (Elisabeth Shue) are looking forward to a new season of life with their daughter heading off to college and as Lucy looks to complete her PhD.
On the night of his birthday, Paul is called into the hospital to cover for a counterpart and while he is away three burglars break into the family home. His wife and daughter, Jordon (Kimberly Elise) are home on the night of the break-in and despite their best efforts, the two women are severely injured. Later at the hospital, Lucy dies in hospital and Jordan is left in a coma. In amongst his grief and waiting for the justice system to apprehend the criminals, he decides to speed up the process and take justice into his own hands.
There is nothing like a straightforward action thriller with the common man doing all he can to make things right. Nothing but the basics of life and sheer will to bring about justice have been at the heart of some cinema’s great films. Willis and Roth attempt to bring back the vibrato and quick wit of a bygone era with this reboot of a cult classic. What better actor to be at the heart of this project than Willis, who tries to breathe life into this revenge series with his action film pedigree and his ability to bring a certain amount of humour to the bleakest of scenarios. This combination of action and actor could excite fans of this genre and the seasoned actor does have the skills to carry a weapon and dole out his form of justice, but he is let down by the writing that cause the humour and the emotional elements to misfire.
Beyond the recent high school shooting, to introduce a film based on this subject matter begs to be questioned by the producers. Is America ready for a gun-toting vigilante to be championed? Even with the nuances of this era that include social media and the power of the radio talk show, a vigilante on the streets of Chicago may seem to be a tantalising opportunity for discussion, but it proves otherwise. By engaging with this social construct, it would have been worthwhile to invest in a script that could hold up under pressure.
Even with the talents of Bruce Willis, Elisabeth Shue and Vincent D’Onofrio on board, the script undermines the impact of the film when they are given such weak dialogue and poorly timed one-liners. Between the rapid-fire expectation of the family to work through their grief to the violent tendency of this supposed life-saving surgeon, even Willis seems to be rolling his eyes at the ridiculous premise. The poorly timed release date, the unfortunate writing and the underutilised cast cause this project to get its wish, a timely death.
What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film?
The world is broken. Watching Death Wish is like seeing an object lesson in the depravity of creation. The language, the violence and even what makes us laugh. A big question asked during the film was ‘What is God doing in this world?’ By telling people that God has a plan in amongst their pain is not comforting, but tends to have an opposite effect.
The answer in Eli Roth’s film seems to be taking justice into our own hands, because all hope seems lost. Is that the case? It is a monumental question that can be answered in the person of Jesus. Not that it is a simple question or answer, but not until you look into his life and death will the answer be evident. Pick up one of the accounts of his life and see how God answers this multi-layered query with one man.
1. Can we find truth in this world? (John 14:6, 1 Corinthians 13:4-6)
2. Can we ever find justice? (Proverbs 21:15, Romans 12:19)
3. Is it possible to come out from under our circumstances?
(Psalm 40:17, Romans 8:38-39)