Is the new version of Death Wish a return to form for director Eli Roth or just another pointless remake? Dan Jensen gives his thoughts.
Directed by Eli Roth (2018)
DEATH WISH is a remake of the classic 1974 action film starring Charles Bronson, this time around featuring Bruce Willis in the lead role of Paul Kersey — a man who embarks on a vigilante justice spree after a tragedy involving his wife and daughter. Directed by Eli Roth, the character of Kersey has been changed from an architect to a surgeon in an attempt at irony over the fact that a man who has sworn to save lives is now taking them. This painful attempt at irony is just one of many areas in which this film fails miserably.
Let me interject here — I'm a huge fan of Eli Roth. Ever since his debut horror film Cabin Fever, I found the man intriguing, with his warped sense of humour and immense love of the horror genre. He followed that film with the first two Hostel movies which I also really enjoyed, but it was soon after that his career took a downward turn. While he did produce a few good movies, including The Sacrament, his work as a director gave us such turkeys as Knock, Knock and the awful Green Inferno. There's a reason why you're reading this wondering what those movies are, they just aren't worth seeing. Nonetheless, I had hopes that Death Wish would be his triumphant return to directing something great, much like M. Night Shyamalan did with The Visit.
Unfortunately, what we have here is 107 minutes of the worst dialogue I've heard in a movie this year, terrible performances from great actors, completely forgettable "action" scenes and a lot of missed opportunities.
Let's begin with the dialogue. There's a fundamental rule of screenwriting which states "show, don't tell". In other words, rather than have characters sitting around telling us what's going on, show it in imagery. Cinema is, after all, primarily a visual medium. In Death Wish, we're given so many scenes of bland exposition either from our characters having conversations where they may as well be looking straight at the audience, or from news reports, radio shows and podcasts that are interspersed throughout the narrative to the point where you just want to yell "we get it!" It's like the movie was written by someone who hadn't seen too many movies and didn't really know what to do.
Most of the performances were incredibly bad, but it's hard to blame the actors since we all know they capable of so much better. The delightful Elisabeth Shue plays Paul's wife Lucy, although her role isn't that extensive. We also have Dean Norris who is no stranger to playing a detective and Vincent D'Onofrio as Frank, brother of Paul. The latter is one of my most favourite actors of all time and it was a joy to see him shine in this, despite being given such inane material. But let's face it, most people are going to be seeing this movie for Bruce Willis and I hope they're ready for what is probably the worst performance in his entire career. Here's a character who the audience should be feeling sympathy for, who needs to go through a drastic change and should be torn apart with the notion of taking lives after swearing the Hippocratic Oath. Sadly, Bruce just plods along looking as though he doesn't want to be there and emotes two facial expressions. The whole time I couldn't help but wish they'd given the lead role to D'Onofrio, he would have elevated the character to something far more memorable.
In terms of the overall story, you can tell they were attempting at making some clever social commentary regarding the gun control debate, but it falls flat and feels far too forced upon us. The original movie did it far better. In this current world climate, it wouldn't be too difficult to come up with a clever narrative for either side of the gun debate, but this film's message seems muddled and not really sure which side it's on. In the end, we just yawn along as we watch Bruce gunning down bad guys in a very generic fashion we've seen a hundred times before. When you compare this to films such as John Wick or Desperado, where the gunfights were creative and unforgettable, you really need to wonder why they bothered in the first place with this. There was no clever camera work, the editing was sub-par and, knowing that remakes are generally frowned upon, it's a mystery why Eli Roth didn't choose to push himself further and create a modern-day action classic that made us think, or at least have a good time at the movies.
My score: 2/10 — only because Vincent D'Onofrio owned each scene he was in.
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