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'Death Wish' is fueled by violence but goes nowhere

Wening Gitomartoyo
Wening Gitomartoyo

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Tue, March 6, 2018  /  11:37 am

Initially scheduled for release in November last year, the film Death Wish was postponed until early March. But timing was not the only problem for this remake of Michael Winner’s 1974 action thriller that went by the same name.

Released in theaters just two weeks after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in the United States, Death Wish seems unsure of where it stands. Some critics have commented on how it almost looks as if the National Rifle Association (NRA) sponsored the film, given the amount of gun violence that appears throughout its 107-minute run.

There are even meticulous scenes that show the audience how to operate a gun. The movie does not shy away from violence – to the point that director Eli Roth could easily be accused of endorsing vigilante justice. 

Set in a violent Chicago, USA, where every morning starts with reports of shootings and murders, Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis) is a successful surgeon and leads a happy life with wife Lucy (Elisabeth Shue) and daughter Jordan (Camila Morrone) – until a burglary that turns violent leaves Lucy dead and Jordan in a coma.

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Angered by the stalled police investigation that seems to be going nowhere, Kersey decides to take the law into his own hands. What his father-in-law says to him after a brush with criminals only nudges him in the direction he’s been leaning toward: "If a man wants to protect his own, he has to do it himself.”

So, with a gun he acquires in the emergency room, he turns into a vigilante and starts killing random criminals, while also on a mission to hunt down Lucy’s murderer.

Kersey is understandably grieving, but after his first kill (and then many others) he seems more concerned with treating his wounds. He suffers through no psychological ordeals, nor does he question his own behavior.

He even seems pleased with himself when the media picks up on his vigilante brand of justice and starts calling him the Grim Reaper. A few scenes feature morning radio hosts debating whether the Grip Reaper’s actions can be justified, but their discussion becomes only chatter as no one argues against his actions.

If Kersey is on a mission to avenge, there are almost no signs of vindication. From a car thief to a drug lord, his targets are picked randomly in unplanned meetings. When he finally finds his wife’s killers, nothing in his face speaks of vengeance, only ruthlessness.    

There is something off about Willis’ trademark half-smiles and the cold looks on his face, which offer something quite different from the persona he presents the Die Hard films or as a snarky detective in the Moonlighting television series. In Death Wish, the sometimes-comical side of his face makes the killing scenes garish and just vulgar.

Though Willis is capable of real acting, what the viewers see is violence after violence that in the end offer nothing meaningful.