"Street Justice Well Played"
What You Need To Know:
DEATH WISH is a blistering remake of a controversial 1974 B movie starring Charles Bronson. It’s superbly crafted, directed and acted with a simple, straightforward and riveting plot. The plot even has some moments of witty humor. DEATH WISH has a strong pro-family message with a firm defense of the right to bear firearms to protect one’s family. However, there’s an excessive amount of strong foul language, some extreme violence, several gunfights, and a theme favoring street justice instead of waiting for the police or God. MOVIEGUIDE® advises extreme caution for this DEATH WISH.
DEATH WISH (2018) is a blistering remake of a controversial 1974 B movie starring Charles Bronson, with Bruce Willis playing an ER surgeon in Chicago who goes on a rampage against criminals after his wife is murdered and his daughter put into a coma by vicious burglars who invade their home while the doctor is at work. The new DEATH WISH is a crowd-pleasing, surprisingly witty and extremely well-acted thriller, with some pro-family themes, but it has an excessive amount of strong foul language, moments of extreme violence and a subplot that questions God’s plan in allowing gratuitous violence and cruelty against women and children.
The movie’s opening introduces the character Bruce Willis plays, a compassionate ER surgeon in Chicago named Paul Kersey. In the first scene, Dr. Kersey tries to save the life of a seriously wounded Chicago police officer but sadly has to tell the man’s partner that the officer died on the operating table. Kersey is clearly very sympathetic toward the partner’s suffering.
Cut to Kersey talking with his wife, Lucy, over the breakfast table. They are overjoyed to hear that their beautiful daughter, Jordan, has been accepted to Stanford University in California (check out this fact).
The family then has brunch with Paul’s unemployed brother, Frank, who asks Paul for a $2,000 loan. Paul rather cheerfully gives his brother the money. While the car valet, a guy named MJ, stands nearby, the family make plans for Paul’s upcoming birthday dinner at a fancy Mexican restaurant. Unknown to Paul and his family, MJ writes down the date of the dinner and Paul’s address on his smartphone.
The night of Paul’s birthday, Paul gets a call from his hospital that the surgeon who was supposed to fill in for him has a high fever. So, Paul and his family must postpone the dinner.
As Paul works at the hospital, Lucy and Jordan return from the store, where they’ve purchased ingredients to make Paul’s favorite cake. They barely get started when four masked burglars invade the house and force Lucy to open the safe upstairs while Jordan is held at gunpoint in the kitchen. One of the burglars, however, is a very nasty person. He clearly wants to rape Jordan, even though the lead burglar ordered no monkey business. Jordan makes a move and slashes one burglar’s face with a knife and pours scalding water on him. The man takes his mask off and knocks her down. Lucy comes running down the stairs. Cut to the outside of the house, where four flashes of gunfire from inside the house indicate the burglars have shot Lucy and Jordan. The women are taken to the very hospital where Paul works. Paul learns that his wife has died and his daughter’s in a coma.
Paul goes to bury his wife at her father’s farm, where her father has reserved a plot for his family, including Paul and his daughter. At the burial, the father says he’s always believed that God has a plan for everyone. However, he wonders aloud how the brutal death of Paul’s wife and his daughter can be part of God’s plan, or anyone’s plan for that matter.
After the funeral, the father-in-law uses a rifle to run off a couple poachers who’ve killed a deer on his property. Paul is shocked by his father-in-law’s attitude that a man has to protect himself and his family and property against the dark forces lingering in the human heart.
Back in Chicago, however, Paul grows increasingly frustrated by his daughter’s continuing comatose situation and by the inability of the police to find his wife’s killers. In a visit to the detective on the case, Paul discovers that the detective and the police are overwhelmed by the number of unsolved murders in the city, even if they exclude the number of killings between evil drug gangs. Meanwhile, a popular Chicago talk show host laments the level of gun murders taking place in the city. One night Paul even tries to stop a couple thugs from beating up a woman, but he gets beaten up himself.
Unable to sleep, Paul sits up late nights watching TV. He sees a clever ad for a gun store featuring a sexy female employee shooting guns. He goes to the store and is greeted by the same lady. She explains to Paul the ins and outs of buying a gun at the store. She assures Paul the store can help him with the paperwork, and he can get a gun in 72 hours after that. Paul tells her he’ll think about it.
Shortly thereafter, Paul gets an opportunity at the ER to secretly get his hands on a gun from an unexpected source. He practices with the gun in his garage. He then starts wandering around the streets looking for trouble and handing out vigilante justice to bad guys. He becomes a media sensation, and the media labels him “the Grim Reaper.”
Soon, Paul gets a lead on one of the burglars. For one brief moment, he ponders whether to tell the detective handling his wife and daughter’s case. He decides against it and starts seeking the men who killed his wife and put his daughter in a coma from which she may never recover. Paul is now a Man on a Mission, but the mission is a deadly one, intended to hand out frontier justice on the evil men he seeks.
DEATH WISH is superbly crafted, directed and acted. The plot is simple and straightforward. It introduces Paul and his family in a concise manner that allows viewers to build sympathy for each one, including Paul’s brother, who’s played extremely well by the usually reliable Vincent D’Onofrio. The plot even has some moments of witty humor that relieve the tension and allow the movie to insert some commentary on the issues of crime, justice and ethics that the story debates. For example, the movie includes brief comments from people on talk radio pro and con regarding Paul’s vigilante campaign against criminals. It even includes snippets from the popular, talented Chicago disc jockey Erich “Mancow” Muller. You might think these snippets would slow down the plot, but they just add to the movie’s energy, resonance and entertainment. They become sort of like a Greek chorus, but a crisply edited Greek chorus. In the end, however, the movie does side with Paul’s actions, including his use of guns, to obtain street justice for his wife and daughter.
In addition to the debate on crime and justice in DEATH WISH, the movie also has a strong pro-family message. The bonds between Paul and his family are strong throughout, even in his grief over his wife’s death. These bonds seem even stronger in DEATH WISH than they are in the MOVIEGUIDE® Award winning movie, TAKEN, with Liam Neeson as a father trying to rescue his kidnapped daughter by any means necessary. Adding to this pro-family theme is the movie’s premise that a man has a duty to protect and defend his family, including to obtain justice for them if they’ve been wronged. This premise is echoed by the wife when she pleads with the burglars not to harm her daughter. Although the burglars are firmly in control, the scene with the burglars shows that a mother also has a duty to protect her family, in this case her child, as best she can.
Despite this duty, the movie still ponders the question: How far can and should a father go to protect and defend his family? The movie’s answer is, “Pretty far.”
DEATH WISH also has an important sub-theme that comes out when the father-in-law questions God’s plan to allow his daughter to be so brutally and senselessly murdered. Why does God allow such gratuitous violence and cruelty against women and children? In another scene, the detective asks Paul to have faith in the system. We’ll catch these killers, the detective assures Paul. Of course, Paul decides not to wait for the system and not to wait for God’s judgment. Instead, he decides to kill the burglars himself and, in effect, send them back to God sooner rather than later so that God can render His final judgment on the burglars who mercilessly killed his wife. Here, DEATH WISH seems to ask the question, If the merciful shall obtain mercy, shouldn’t the merciless receive no mercy?
Of course, in addition to the Bible’s talk about mercy and the merciful, God says in Romans 12:19, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” Or, as God says in Deuteronomy 32:35, “Vengeance is Mine, and retribution. In due time their foot will slip. . ..” However, Romans 13:1-4 says the first duty of government is to punish “evildoers.” So, what happens when the police fail to do that? What should we do?
Sadly, DEATH WISH also contains an excessive amount of strong foul language, including many “f” words. The burglars start speaking this way right off the bat, but other characters follow suit. There are also images of extreme violence in DEATH WISH. Though Director Eli Roth (who often goes way over the top in depicting gruesome violence in his movies) shows restraint in the attack on the women in the movie (unlike the first DEATH WISH, the new movie doesn’t depict the daughter being raped), he does have scenes of point blank shootings, about three bloody shots of bad guys being shot through the head, and a quick shot of a car squishing a man’s body. DEATH WISH also has several intense gunfights. In the wake of several mass shootings, Hollywood has been heavily criticized for depicting so much gun violence in its movies. DEATH WISH is likely to inflame that criticism, but it clearly defends the Second Amendment right of American citizens to bear firearms so they can defend themselves and their families.
Ultimately, DEATH WISH is a classic American story well done. It follows in the footsteps of James Fennimore Cooper’s LAST OF THE MOHECANS and other classic westerns where dark forces threaten women and children, and it’s up to the hunter-hero to protect and defend them, as well as to seek justice for them, with violence if necessary. However, extreme caution is advised for the movie’s excessive foul language, violence and threats of violence, and the other problems and issues mentioned above.