Current events inevitably have some bearing on the way we enjoy and interpret films. Delays and reshoots are common in the industry, especially in the wake of real-life tragedies, and thus many were surprised to see the US release of this remake of Michael Winner’s 1974 thriller go ahead as planned in the wake of the recent Florida school shooting. It’s a move that seems tone-deaf at best, unfathomably cynical at worst. Not that there would have been a good time to inflict his generic dross on audiences…
Death Wish sees director Eli Roth blandly tell the story of Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis), a surgeon who turns vigilante after a burglary gone wrong, leaving his wife in the morgue and his daughter hospitalised. Feeling that the police investigation is going too slow, Paul decides to take matters into his own hands, and what should have been a fun exploitation flick doesn’t even manage to tick that box. Instead, it’s a template-stencilled revenge drama which is, like its leading man’s performance, utterly lifeless. Willis’ turn is made all the more frustrating by the fact his on-screen daughter (Camila Morrone) out-acts him with a vaster palette of emotions – and she’s in a coma for most of the runtime.
Worse though is the pernicious undercurrent that sees Death Wish utterly glorify gun use. Roth smugly thinks he’s presenting both sides of the argument, trying to pass his remake off as conscious of the moral implications of vigilantism and gun use – but no. The film (scripted by Joe Carnahan, who has wisely disowned the project) is completely barren of any satirical or critical bite, and if ever there was any doubt about its self-reflexivity, the laughable tonal decision to set-up a montage where Paul learns how to lock and load to the tune of AC/DC’s “Back in Black”, as well as a catastrophically ill-judged ending note, will make you howl in despair. It’s so unambiguous about its celebration of gun culture that you’ll genuinely wonder whether the NRA sponsored the film. Avoid this right-leaning white suburban masturbatory fantasy at all costs, not only for its poor timing, dangerous fear-mongering and horrific prizing of firearms, but also because life’s too short for a dull remake that pushes the wrong buttons in the most cack-handed ways imaginable.
Death Wish | Directed by Eli Roth (US, 2018) with Bruce Willis, Elisabeth Shue, Camila Morrone. Starts March 8
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