Released: 2nd March
Seen: 6th December (Catch-Up Screening)
During the ’70s and 80’s, there was a series of films called Death Wish where Charles Bronson played a father whose wife and child were attacked in a home invasion and ended up becoming a vigilante to try and put an end to the injustice in the town. While the series was never a hit with critics, audiences ate it up because it was a revenge story that acted as a little bit of escapism, the idea that any man could pick up a gun and save the town was enticing and managed to endure long enough for a run of sequels that became Charles Bronson’s most famous role. So, what if someone took that cult series of films and polished it up to look mostly acceptable and then threw in an actor with no charm, charisma or ability to move at a speed above a lethargic snail with back problems? Yeah… this is not going to be fun.
Death Wish (2018) does, surprisingly, change some things from the original. While the main character is still named Paul Kersey, now he’s a doctor in a hospital instead of an Architect with a history in Vietnam and his family live in Chicago instead of Manhattan. Since there’s a current crime wave in Chicago that can make the story feel relevant (Or try too), they attempt to link the Kersey family to this by having the standard break-in that ends in the mother dead and the daughter in a coma. This naturally sends Paul on a path of revenge so he gets a gun and gets to revenging, even though he hasn’t the energy to do anything apart from watching YouTube videos on how to disassemble a gun and maybe steal a hoodie from the bins at the hospital, because he couldn’t be bothered to buy them from the goodwill.
Remember when Bruce Willis cared? Remember when he used to actually put in a performance and made you like him when he was in a movie? Remember when he didn’t present the same emotional range as depressed wallpaper? Well, I don’t anymore, because I watched Death Wish (2018) and that’s the only emotion I know him to have now. It’s legitimately shocking just how little effort he seems to put into his role. I’ve previously described performances like this as “Being there purely for craft services” but I don’t even think that’s a vivid enough description for this one. Bruce isn’t even there, his performance could’ve been more enthusiastic with a cardboard cut-out taking his place in the frame. Hell, a cardboard cut out would probably move a little faster because you can put a cardboard cut out on wheels and give it a push. I’m just saying that when you’re playing a surgeon and you’re being told to go to the operating room for a gunshot wound, Running is absolutely a thing you could try doing.
To be fair on Bruce, no one in this really seems to care. None of them, none of them give their characters personalities worth even being upset about. Because this is a revenge film something awful needs to happen to someone (Usually a woman, because revenge films haven’t figured out that we could also want revenge for someone else or moves past their I Spit On Your Grave-era concepts) and we’re meant to care… we don’t, because the people who it happens to are neither interesting nor memorable. I mean I’m aware that they’re there, they occupy space on the screen and say lines that resemble dialogue that a human person might say but that’s about it really. They also could be replaced with cardboard. Everyone could be. As a challenge, someone remake this film with cardboard people and I bet it’ll be more interesting.
The only person in the entire cast who could be saved from being replaced by cardboard is Vincent D’Onofrio who is slowly making me realise that everyone is sleeping on this obscenely talented man who should be given any role he wants. He’s the only person in this film showing an ounce of emotion and depth, I think he cares more about the original victims of this movie than Bruce does. If this movie had been Vincent going around getting revenge, it would’ve been so much better because he can act! So, when you get to the end of this review and wonder “Why is this score higher than a 1 when he clearly doesn’t like this film”, thank Vincent for that one because his performance is the only part of this film that’s watchable.
The watchabity of this film is not really helped by the editing which is not great, to be kind. Scenes lack any form of transition, I lost count of the number of times things moved between edit points when they shouldn’t (Come on people, basic continuity editing, this is first year film student stuff), sound mixing is so hilariously off in some points that I found myself rewinding the film just to check that I hadn’t heard something wrong. I understand that editing isn’t an easy thing to do, especially when you have this material to work with but could you maybe try to give the film a little bit of life? Some consistency maybe? How about just don’t make me actively wonder how much time has passed between simple scenes where that shouldn’t be a concern of mine. Transitions, they are a standard element of film editing and maybe you should try them *Checks notes* Guy who edited Terminator 2 and should, therefore, be better than this!
Even the violence, the actual revenge element to this revenge film, feels phoned in. There’s nothing cool about it, it doesn’t feel like the righteous angry father getting revenge or even explore the horrific idea that the good guy with the gun might be the bad guy in disguise, potentially interesting ideas… no, he just opens fire until twitching stops and that’s it. There’s exactly one scene where they actually do something potentially interesting concept wise with him being a doctor using his knowledge to get to someone who has information, but that scene stops being interesting because we have a piece of cardboard as the lead actor who barely puts anything into it. I don’t even believe the screaming of the victim, everything is just so bland that I feel a bit silly using so many words to try and say “EVERYTHING IS BLAND AND BORING AND I DO NOT LIKE IT VERY MUCH!”
This film doesn’t even really try to address some really serious issues that this concept raises in a modern era. Thanks to the news we now know what happens when a person who isn’t a 63-year-old white man (Say, an 18-year-old black teen, just an example off the top of my head) walks around in a hoodie… we going to address that? It might be interesting to have an element of this film be a discussion around why a 63-year-old white guy can go around shooting people without anyone stopping him… no? No, we’re not going to handle that potential issue? How about the issue of good guys with guns getting killed by police, a thing that literally is a news story that we heard just these last few weeks? Nope. Nothing about gun rights or about gun violence being a problem or anything like that. This film that should be easy to throw an interesting political idea into avoids that, because that would be interesting and we don’t do interesting ideas in this movie. No sir, we shoot things until they stop moving and pretend that that’s a character moment of some kind.
It isn’t that hard, in reality, to do a revenge film. Bad thing happens, person gets revenge, gains back something they lost at the end. Look at possibly one of the most extreme entries into this genre I Spit On Your Grave. That film is a horrific rape-revenge film that’s hard to watch… but, the victim not only gets revenge, but gets back the freedom to enjoy her sexuality at the end of it and it’s cathartic as hell watching her pick off her attackers one by one. This film doesn’t have that, there’s no catharsis, no one is getting back something they lost, it’s just a bunch of things happening that we’re meant to care about, but it’s impossible to care about cardboard characters played by cardboard actors. This film bored me, it bored me so much that I’m stunned I didn’t fall asleep while watching it. There are a thousand revenge films that are far more interesting than this, watch literally any one of them before you even think about this one because it’s just not worth your time.