So... NOT nominated for an Oscar next year is this doomed Eli Roth remake. Delayed once because of the Vegas shooting. NOT delayed after the Florida shooting because ultimately the show must go on. And prematurely shot down (pun intended) by the fans of the Charles Bronson original and its cult sequels. Nobody's going to embrace any take on DEATH WISH right about now.
Except me... because I'm not just a Bronson fan-addict; I'm also a specialist in the 'urban vigilante' subgenre spawned by 1974's DEATH WISH as well as the films directly rooted in Brian Garfield's novels DEATH WISH and DEATH SENTENCE. The Bronson series that had nothing to do with Garfield's attitude. The in-name-only James Wan adaptation that preserved the Garfield attitude but none of his story (and which nobody saw). The uncredited knock-offs (cough-THE BRAVE ONE-cough) and the honorable variations (HARRY BROWN) that allowed the stars to actually act their age. Long story short, there was no way in hell I was NOT going to check out Eli Roth's take on DEATH WISH starring Bruce Willis.
And for all the "They got it wrong!" protestations, the truth as I see it is that Roth came up with a properly updated remake that honored the Winner/Bronson film (certainly not Garfield's novel) with no slavish attempts to imitate it outside of basic premise, character name and a couple of signature flourishes. Please allow me to elaborate.
Willis's Paul Kersey is a surgeon in violence-plagued Chicago. Yes, he has a liberal attitude and will walk away from a fight if given a choice, but he's not the least bit squeamish about the effects of bloody gun violence. He's up to his elbows in it every day. He believes in his impartial job, so when he can't save a mortally wounded cop, he calls it--but when he's called upon to save the shooter, he proceeds to do exactly that. But when his wife is killed and his daughter rendered comatose, we (thankfully) are spared the extended, graphic horrors of Michael Winner's DEATH WISH and (especially) II, while the circumstances of the crime allow believable detective work on the part of Kersey and the police alike without any outlandish contrivances. Kersey immediately and believably wants to strike back at the perpetrators and anyone else who would do what they do... he just has to learn to actually handle weapons (and himself) on the street. Thus we get a fusion of the first two Bronson films in which Kersey not only turns vigilante but has the opportunity to take direct action against the actual perpetrators.
Kersey allows himself the satisfaction of a quiet smile after his first successful mission and doesn't even seem particularly put out when one of his inevitable copycats (true to its date and setting, his vigilante 'goes viral' almost immediately) bites the dust. Such a moment was truly the turning point of Garfield's narrative, which is not reflected here... nevertheless, Kersey is provided with a conscience in the form of his brother (Vincent D'Onofrio), who never existed in any previous iteration of DEATH WISH.
CABIN FEVER. HOSTEL 1&2. THE GREEN INFERNO. KNOCK KNOCK. Love him or hate him, Eli Roth knows his movies and never contents himself with scene-for-scene copies. I scarcely need to explain why a genre fan of his age would carry a torch for the Bronson series... and I believe he gave us a 'remake' which in no way attempts to supplant the original. The new DEATH WISH deserves to exist on its own terms and is well worth seeing for those willing to take it.
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