Review: Death Wish (2017)

Review: Death Wish (2017)
05 May
Not in Hall of Fame


Bruce Willis                              Paul Kersey

Vincent D’Onofrio                     Frank Kersey

Elisabeth Shue                          Lucy Kersey

Camila Morrone                        Jordan Kersey

Dean Norris                              Detective Kevin Raines

Kimberly Elise                           Detective Leonore Jackson

Beau Knapp                              Knox

For this week, I decided to try a re-make from a classic that I watched in my childhood. In 1974, Charles Bronson was coming into his own as an action star, and the movie Death Wish was the vehicle that he used to achieve it. In a nut-shell, Death Wish tells a story of revenge. In the original, Charles Bronson, a successful architect has his life destroyed when a bunch of robbers break into his apartment, kill his wife and rape his daughter. In his grief, Kersey (Bronson) becomes a one-man vigilante squad and wreaks havoc on the underworld of New York, desperately seeking vengeance for the crimes that had befallen his family. Death Wish (1974) was a great movie for the day, it established Bronson as an action star and marketable in Hollywood films of the time. Sure, he had a few other successes as the lead prior to Death Wish, Mr. Majestyk and the Mechanic to name a few. However, he was seen more in ensemble movies (The Great Escape, Magnificent 7, The Dirty Dozen) as an added bonus to these action movies, where others had to carry the weight of the film. Death Wish started a franchise for Bronson that spanned 5 films and 2 decades. 

As Death Wish (1974) was a classic, I can see where Hollywood would like to try and re-invigorate the franchise, especially as it seems that is all Hollywood can do at this time, revive ideas and scripts, dust them off and try to modernize them for a new generation. Death Wish (2018) is another example of the latest Hollywood fad of re-imagining classics. 

The plot is almost identical to the original except it is now in Chicago vs New York, and Kersey (Willis) is an Emergency Room Surgeon vs architect. Other than those minor differences, the general idea and plot line is extremely similar. Kersey and his family (to include his brother, a new character compared to the original) go out for a family dinner. The Valet, hears a discussion that the family will all be out together the following week for Paul’s (Willis) Birthday and takes a photo of the on-board GPS family address when returning the car. Naturally, the valet is a bad guy, he gives the details to a few thugs. Meanwhile, on the birthday date in question, the celebration is curtailed as Paul (Willis) is called to work at the hospital. As the would-be robbers expect the house to be empty, they break in to rob the family of all the belongings. Enter wife and daughter (Shue and Morrone) returning from a trip to the supermarket. They encounter the robbers, a scuffle ensues and Lucy (Shue) is killed and Jordan (Morrone) is wounded and ends up in a coma. 

Paul (Willis) is distraught, Detectives Raines and Jackson (Norris and Elise respectively) who are assigned to the case have no leads and Paul (Willis) is spiralling further down. This all changes when during an emergency room scene, Paul (Willis) encounters the same valet, who is now wounded and requires assistance. A pistol drops on the ground, and one of Paul’s expensive watches is visible on the Valet’s arm. He puts 2 + 2 together and realizes that this is a key to his recovery…ok, I mean revenge. He grabs the pistol, his watch and the valet’s phone. From this point forward, Paul (Willis) starts his path as a one-man vigilante squad. He learns how to fire, clean and aim his pistol (all done by today’s teachers – Youtube!) and goes out looking for the bad guys who messed with his family and life. Along this journey he encounters several incidents where crimes are committed and takes action, killing all the bad guys, saving the day and carrying on. However, this is the 2000’s and everyone has a cell phone camera and he is recorded and uploaded to the internet for all to see. 

Coined online as the “Grim Reaper”, and looking like a slightly older version of the main character in Unbreakable (Willis as David Dunn) he stumbles around till he finds out who messed with him and exacts justice in a fashion that John McClane from Die Hard would be proud of. Throughout the film, Detectives Raines & Jackson (Norris and Elise) continue to search for the criminals in question, suspect Paul (Willis) is the Grim Reaper. However, as the “Grim Reaper” is now gaining cult-like status in Chicago, and is admired by many, (including the Detectives), Paul (Willis) gets away with murder – literally. This pretty much sums up the movie, I know that some spoilers were given, but hey, this is a remake of a 46-year-old film and does follow a typical revenge formula. Nothing is new here.

What did I like about this film? The use of Chicago as the scene instead of New York was a nice touch, specifically due to the fact that the New York of yesterday is far more violent then that of today. Chicago has replaced New York for the title of cities with the most murders. So for realism sake, this was a solid change to the plot. The movie was updated to include various changes to technology and cultural norms. For example, getting the home info from the on-board GPS on the car, photo’s/video from the phone and even the ability to learn skills from youtube. All of these enhancements helped to move this film to present day, and were done well enough to entertain yet not take away from the story. Especially if you (like me) were comparing this film to the 1974 original.

Bruce Willis as Paul Kersey: of late, Willis’ films have been rather hit and miss. When he sticks to his tried and true method of being the sarcastic hero, with one liners shooting out just as fast his guns, he is in his comfort zone. However, playing a doctor in this case, he seemed to struggle to get the feel of the role. It was not until he started playing the “Grim Reaper” that he really started to come back to normal and be the Bruce Willis that fans want to watch. Overall, he had a pretty uneven performance, but there was just enough of regular roles/mannerisms in the film to make it entertaining enough to watch through. I did like the part where in his first shoot out, he managed to get cut by the Pistol’s slide across the web of his hand. This can occur very easily with in-experienced shooters and I have seen it on several occasions at ranges myself. A little bit of realism that did cause me to laugh a little. 

Vincent D’Onofrio as Frank Kersey: This was a new character compared to the original. I have liked D’Onofrio in films ever since “Full Metal Jacket”. He is a diverse actor who can add to any film or show that he is in. In Death Wish, D’Onofrio is the brother with actually no real role. You could take him completely out of the film and it would not change one iota. With some small dialogue tweaks, his contribution to the film could be completely wiped out. One scene that D’Onofrio shares with the Detectives Rains and Jackson (Norris and Elise) is somewhat out of place. We know that he is a bit down and out on his luck and has little cash (he is the family sponge), but where was it mentioned that he was bad enough to be considered as a criminal and suspect for the vigilante (Grim Reaper) murders that were conducted. The Detectives zoom in that he is left handed and that he made him a suspect. But why? Where was the background info that would have and should have been presented to lead them to it? Maybe it was on the cutting room floor, I don’t know. I felt that his contribution to the film was minimal and his talents were wasted. He would have played the robber/scumbag far better I believe than having a down and out brother who is just hanging around the family as a sponge. 

Elisabeth Shue as Lucy Kersey: Shue pretty much had a minimal part, much like her acting roles of late.  Popular when she was much younger (Back to the Future 2 and 3, Adventures in babysitting, Karate Kid), her career kind of floundered around for years, participating in middle of the road films. As the mother Lucy (Shue), does a fair job in the short time that she has on screen. Her role is important to the motive of the vigilante and the character’s importance cannot be understated. However, with the limited on-screen time she has, it did not really leave a lasting effect. If you are a fan of Shue, consider watching “The Boys”, an amazon original where she does an excellent job as the harpy CEO who is controlling all the superheroes. 

Dean Norris as Detective Kevin Raines and Kimberly Elise as Detective Leonore Jackson: They do an fair job as police detectives who are trying to find the killers/thieves and also the “Grim Reaper”. Their characters were pretty much 1 dimensional and had no real depth, but however, in this case they did not really require it either. Norris plays pretty much the same character he plays in all films/shows. Whether he is a cop, soldier, or mayor, he often plays roles of authority, and leads/directs with a bullish attitude that he can carry off very easily. Elise played the 2ndfiddle detective as well as can be expected with the limited time she had. Nothing dramatic here, I have not seen her in too many films/shows before, but do remember her in John Q which was a great movie. 

Camila Morrone as Jordan Kersey: This was the first movie I have seen her in, and from what I have gathered, modelling was her previous profession. Her character while critical to the story (as her mother Lucy/Shue was) required very little acting or dialogue. Heck, for the most part of the film she was in a coma and just had to lie there. Mind you, the rest of her scenes were not too bad. 

Beau Knapp as Knox: Knox (Knapp) is the ringleader who set the whole ball in motion for Kersey (Willis). His portrayal of a slime ball was pretty bang on, and while watching the film you are rooting for Kersey (Willis) to make short work of him and ensure that gets smoked in a most memorable fashion. I checked his resume on IMDB, and while he has been in some shows that I have watched, he has not left an impact with either his portrayal or characters for me to remember. While no Hans Gruber (Rickman in Die Hard), Knapp in this role, and in this movie, was OK. Like I alluded to before, slimy enough to dislike him and want him gone, but nothing like some of the other villains in Bruce Willis movies of days gone by.

To sum up, Death Wish (2018) has a number of actors who have seen better days, a few fair co-stars and maybe a potential up-and comer. The film was entertaining enough to watch to the end, and did not make you think too much. Was it as good as the original…I don’t think so. It is not often when a remake out performs the original anyways. Has Bruce Willis seen better days? I think so, lately many of his movies have gone straight to video/streaming and do not even hit the theatre. In my opinion, his last good film was RED 2..and even then the first one was better. As I mentioned earlier, films where he can shoot off his mouth as fast his gun is his wheel-house. That is where his best performances are. At 64, he should be looking more at the “mentor” roles, instead of the man-of-action. But he would still be able to deliver his signature style. Of that I am sure. 

Were we entertained…yes we were, but not greatly. Would I recommend it? Hmmm..only if you are a huge fan of his and could overlook some of the issues mentioned earlier. Remember, this is no Die Hard, RED or Sin City, but you can sit there with your bourbon and pretzels and waste a few hours. However, if you liked the premise, I would recommend the original first!

Rating: 4/10

If you are looking for films with the main cast, please consider the following recommendations:

Bruce Willis                  RED, Sin City, Die Hard (1, 2 and 3), 16 Blocks, Surrogates and Looper

Elisabeth Shue              Back to the Future 2 and 3, Hollow Man, Karate Kid, The Boys, and Leaving Las Vegas

Vincent D’Onofrio         Full Metal Jacket, The Magnificent Seven (2016), and Men in Black

Dean Norris                  Under the Dome and Breaking Bad        

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