Having watched the original Death Wish from 1974 with Charles Bronson, I was reminded how much that film looks dated. It still is a good film, but everything looks cheaper from the clothes all the way down to the gunshot sounds. The ad campaign for the latest remake for Death Wish seemed to market the new film as a bit more light-hearted, for lack of a better term. It seemed to make the star Bruce Willis as a man who takes revenge on the people who kill his family who does so with a smirk or a smile on his face. At least, that is how it looked in the ads. To me, it set the wrong tone for a revenge picture. But in the 1974 version Charles Bronson’s Paul Kersey does the same thing. He relishes exacting his revenge and there are several scenes in which he does so with a smile on his face.
Having said that, the new Death Wish is not that much different than the original. In the 1974 version, Paul Kersey was an architect and both his wife and daughter were slain. In this newest version, Kersey’s wife is killed but the daughter lives and Kersey is a surgeon. Yes, you read that correctly. Bruce Willis’ Paul Kersey is Dr. Paul Kersey. An architect and now a doctor? That is a lot of schooling. Regardless, the fact that Paul Kersey is a doctor facilitates his revenge in a more believable fashion. There are things he uses and does that you can only do if you are a doctor, so it works better in regards to the plot.
The criticism levied against the new Death Wish was that there was not a single, main bad guy for Kersey can go after. Well, that is just plain incorrect. His name is Knox in this Death Wish. Now, in the 1974 version there really was no main bad guy, except all of the scumbag criminals Kersey went after. In fact, the only man that posed a real threat was the police chief played by Vincent Gardenia. He was the only one closing in on Kersey until the mayor and police superintendent tells him to back off Kersey. They allow Frank Ochoa (Gardenia) to tip Kersey off that they know he is the vigilante and to stop his killing but not to arrest him. Warn Kersey and that is all.
The newest Death Wish has two cops on Kersey’s tail, Detective Johnson (Kimberly Elise) and Detective Raines (Dean Norris). They are your standard movie cops but sufficient to pose a threat to Kersey’s freedom. Bruce Willis as Kersey is surprisingly believable as a doctor and a man who demands blood for blood. Vincent D’Onofrio is Kersey’s down-on-his-luck brother who is borrowing money from Paul on a regular basis. So much money that at one point it is suggested he is behind the plan that killed Paul’s wife. Whether that materializes into anything, I will let the viewers figure that out.
My comparison of these two films is to suggest that, aside from cosmetics and forty-four years, there really is not much difference to either of these films. I enjoyed the dated look of the 1974 version and I surprisingly enjoyed the 2018 Eli Roth version, as well. Neither film is a classic in the classic sense but both are competently made thrillers. With Eli Roth being the director of this newest version, you would think it would come with a bunch of over-the-top gore but Mr. Roth has wisely toned it down a bit. Just a bit. There is still plenty to go around but it seems a bit more real with less of a mess. Willis still commands the screen with a larger than life presence but he does not overdo it, either. I believed he was a doctor and was devastated his wife was taken from him. I believed his frustration of justice being denied.
There is a lot of predictability in both films and you can pretty much see where these films are going. But I was never bored or uninterested in what happens on screen. The cinematography captures the city well and the editing gives the action to Roth’s version a great deal of energy. I also loved the electronic score by Ludwig Goransson. He knows when to go big for the action and when to play it quiet for the tender moments. Joe Carnahan’s script has some light sprinkles of humor and Willis is able to crack a few dry jokes without ruining his character or his motivation. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised with 2018’s Death Wish. It is nothing spectacular but it was a lot more entertaining and well constructed than I thought it was going to be.
In reality, you can’t go wrong with either of these films. Each one has the same strengths and likewise the same flaws but both are entertaining. The newest Death Wish was slated to star Sylvester Stallone and be bit more like a Rambo film. I am glad that the filmmakers decided to play this film closer to the vein of its predecessor. On that level, Death Wish 2018 works well enough for me to recommend it and if you have not seen the original, although it is really dated, it is worth a viewing, as well. Bronson’s Kersey would work if he had been a florist. I mean, it Charles Freakin’ Bronson!
Death Wish (2018) – *** out of 5
Death Wish (2018) – Rated R for graphic violence, gore, language
Death Wish (2018) – Run time is 108 minutes
Death Wish (1974) – *** out of 5
Death Wish (1974) – Rated R for language and violence
Death Wish (1974) – Run time is 93 minutes
Both films are available on DVD. 2018’s Death Wish is also available On Demand and pay subscription services. Check you local listings for pricing and availability.