Death Wish (2018)
Directed by Eli Roth
Written by Joe Carnahan, based on the 1974 screenplay by Wendell Mayes and the novel “Death Wish” by Brian Garfield
Starring Bruce Willis, Vincent D’Onofrio, Elisabeth Shue, Dean Norris, Kimberly Elise, Camilla Morrone, Beau Knapp
It didn’t occur to me until I started really thinking about Eli Roth’s “Death Wish” how exacting the phrase “Revenge is a dish best served cold” would serve his film. It isn’t so much that the remake of the 1974 classic by the same name, which hits theater screens tomorrow, takes its time to exact the revenge our bereaved seeks.
No. In this version, written by Joe Carnahan (the “Smoking Aces” series, “A-Team”), the film takes its time to explore the slow build-up towards vengeance that Dr. Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis) experiences following the death of his wife (Elisabeth Shue) and his comatose daughter, Jordan (Camilla Morrone).
Mr. Roth uses modern day social media and talk-radio to guide a part of his narrative, in an effort to modernize this tale. Mr. Willis plays a passable ER surgeon and when he is called in to play his requisite hero role, the story loses its luster.
Yes, you feel sympathy for what the character is going through, but a number of the plot points feel contrived, if not convenient. Where the original film featured the main character as an architect, here making the character a doctor gives the film an easy way out: the skills a doctor learns to save people, can very easily be used to turn against people.
To balance that aspect out, Mr. Roth surrounded Mr. Willis with a somewhat strong supporting cast, namely Vincent D’Onofrio, who seems to have faded into the background. He’s actually a nice foil for the successful Dr. Kersey as someone who understands the need to exact revenge: he is the audiences’ conscience. Dean Norris, who usually plays a heavy is pretty light as Detective Rains. In an era where the majority of this country don’t believe that cops do their jobs well, the Rains character depicts the struggle that the police go through to solve cases. His partner, Detective Jackson (Kimberly Elise) is adept at standing by Rains’s side.
For a protagonist to truly be effective, there needs to be an antagonist of equal intelligence. When they wrote the character of Knox, played by Beau Knapp, they intended the intelligence part, but they really got brawn. I could claim the same about every other lowlife scum that inhabits this film as Dr. Kersey goes through his warpath of vengeance. It makes the Kersey character that much more formidable, and yet, with Bruce Willis in the role, Mr. Roth didn’t need to make the path so easy.
You have to wonder if this is a comment on society-at-large, where we are all driven to the point where we feel the need to take action. The story fails because of the swiftness with which Dr. Kersey was able to take action. Yes, time passed by, something the story does get right. Society questions the need for his actions. Yet, the film justifies the means to an end.
Is it logical? No. Dr. Kersey, as well as Mr. Roth are on slippery slopes. Just because you have the knowledge and the instruments to take life, doesn’t mean that you should. Even if it means “an eye for an eye.”
Rating: 2 out of 4