I have never been a fan of the ’66-’75 era of cinema generally, and especially not of the style of violent cop/revenge action pictures—although Dirty Harry (1971) holds up pretty well (as does Bullitt (1968))—and I never really cared for the original Charles Bronson version of Death Wish in particular. Besides the very ugly violence which, to me, has always felt degrading rather than cathartic, I have a very low threshold for rape-as-entertainment.
So, the original Death Wish, to me, has always felt like those old exploitation flicks where they show a lot of sex and violence and then moralize about how bad everything is and you shouldn’t exploit sex and violence. But I felt like the remake might actually be enjoyable, and it had a RT split worthy of a “Jesus-flick”: 17% from critics and a whopping 80% from audiences. The right noses appear to have been tweaked.
This was a very busy time and I didn’t have a lot of room for extra movies in-between the mandatory ones (the revivals of classics), and meanwhile the Flower’s pals were over and they wanted to see it. So I took them.
It’s an R-rated film, and the Flower’s not quite 17. One of her friends was 17, but she’s tiny, and both of the friends are relatively meek. They had no concept of how to bluff their way into an R-rated movie. I had to come with them. Fortunately, with MoviePass, it wasn’t really a problem. It didn’t cost me anything. (MoviePass has since changed their policy so that you can’t see the same movie twice, which is one of the many restrictions they’ve been adding that makes me think business isn’t going so well.)
So, I joined them for the first half and snuck out in the second. What I saw was quite good, really. Bruce Willis is a very likable lead, of course, and—for all his action star pedigree—is also very plausible as a gentle spirit driven to desperation. The family set up is very endearing: You like the characters.
Director Eli Roth gained some notoriety for the extremity of violence/gore in his earlier pictures (like Cabin Fever and Hostel), but barring one scene in Hostel 2 I have never felt like he was doing “torture porn”: That is, the audience is squarely on the side of the victims in most cases, and not meant to enjoy or empathize with the villains. The problem (for me) with the original movie is that the violence is long enough and explicit enough for me to believe director Michael Winner meant for it to be titillating more than horrifying. (Death Wish 3, and Marina Sirtis’ relation of her experiences on that, sort of back me up.)
Roth’s treatment of The Incident that leads to the ultimate vigilantism is much more sensitive—even nuanced. The guys breaking in are just looking for money, but there’s Worse Guy who, upon finding the wife and daughter, wants to rape them. Roth contrives the situation to avoid that, and for that I thank him. (Assault and murder is plenty bad in my book.)
Then we get Willis with the blues, and Willis is very good at that. Again, for all his action star background, he’s got a good Everyman quality to him which, I can only imagine, makes the revenge aspect of the film more satisfying.
I can only imagine because, well, I had to go. I checked out right before he gets a gun. And I was out of town and completely tied up when it went out of theaters, so I never did see the end. The critics did a good job of torpedoing this, I’d say, as much less well-received movies (Wrinkle In Time has 30%s) are still sputtering along.
The girls all liked it, though. And they’re very nice teen girls who, between them, have wide and largely disparate tastes. (The Flower only discusses politics and religion with them, because music talk gets too heated, and they don’t see a lot of movies.)
I suspect this movie will do better streaming, might even be a sleeper.