Paul Kersey is back and his death wish is stronger than ever!
BQB here with a review.
You know 3.5 readers, in today’s highly politically correct times, I’m surprised “Death Wish” was ever made.
Then again, the original 1970s version was controversial. In that one, Charles Bronson played architect Paul Kersey, who, after the death of his wife and rape of his daughter, he starts packing heat. Technically, he never commits a crime, but rather, he walks the mean NYC streets and when trouble finds him, he doesn’t back down, run away, or become the next victim. Rather, he stands his ground and shoots the trouble. The message? If everyone had a gun, criminals would go extinct.
Controversial then but even more so now given the epidemic of school shootings our nation is seeing, especially with the push for gun control that liberals are pushing for. Ironically, liberal Hollywood has been churning out more films that feature gun violence than ever before, but as long as its just random violence that’s considered OK, but if its a man who buys a gun to defend himself, family, and home then God forbid.
In this go around, the original “Death Wish” formula is followed, but also broken away from. Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis, who is one of the most well-preserved sixty-somethings out there, though he’s flattering himself in an attempt to play a late 40s/early 50s man) is an ER doctor who sees the effects of gun violence daily as he treats gunshot wounds all too often.
Alas, when a robbery of his home goes wrong, his wife (Elisabeth Shue, another well preserved older person flattering herself by playing a woman in her 40s) ends up dead and daughter ends up in a coma.
Just as the original Kersey, he blames himself. He feels he’s failed as a man and begins packing heat. He dons a hooded sweatshirt as he takes out various criminals, causing the media to dub him, “The Grim Reaper.” And unlike the 1970s, everyone has a camera phone today, so his exploits are caught on video and shared all over the Internet for armchair spectators to gawk at.
Now in the original version, guns weren’t the only controversy. The race issue was controversial as well. Kersey blew away white robbers, black robbers, he wasn’t focused on the color but rather, on saving his life even though he was out looking for trouble. Still, the number of black bad guys capped in the original was high and as I watched it recently, I knew that would never stand today.
In this new version, there’s, well, what I can only describe as an attempt at what I might call, “conservative political correctness.” Yes, at one point in the film, Kersey, a white man, goes out and shoots a black drug dealer named “The Ice Cream Man” for the poison he deals out of an ice cream cart. The dealer is sitting, hasn’t drawn, and that’s a deviation as the old Kersey always waited to be attacked first then defended himself.
The optics are bad – a white man shooting a black man, as well as a black man portrayed as a criminal. But then the debate in the film begins. A radio show featuring black hosts takes on the issue. One host thinks it’s wrong, a black man killing a white man. Another hosts argues it wasn’t so much a white man killing a black man as it was an arguably good man killing a bad man and doing the community a favor, ridding the world of a bad person.
In fact, Kersey learns of the Ice Cream Man in his ER when he treats one of his victims, a young boy, under ten years old, forced into a life of drug pushing by the dealer, shot in the leg for failing on a deal.
Meanwhile, the film goes out of its way to put black people in positions of power, from doctors and nurses that Kersey works with, to a cop he treats for a gunshot wound, to one of the two detectives investigating his wife’s murder (Kimberly Elise, partnered with the illustrious Dean Norris of “Breaking Bad” fame, appearing here in a quasi-Hank reincarnation.)
And Kersey even gets his first foray into vigilantism when he guns down two white guys trying to kidnap a black woman, saving her from being raped, sold as a sex slave, whatever ill fate would have happened to her.
So, the overall message seems clear – black people aren’t a monolith. All too often, we see violence, whether it’s in the news or in a TV show or movie, and we look at the perpetrator’s race and people get offended that the member of X (whatever race) is being portrayed badly.
But what this film seems to be arguing is that not everyone in any given race is the same. It isn’t about black or white but good vs. bad. Paul is a good person, just as the black doctors, nurses, cops, and detective he encounters regularly are good people. The black drug dealer and white kidnappers are bad people. Good people who do the right thing of all different races, colors, religions, backgrounds should stick together and stand up against bad people of all different races, colors, religions, backgrounds who do bad things.
If it’s got to be a case of “us vs. them” then let the “us vs them” not be one race against the other but rather, good people vs. bad people. Kersey, a (prior to the start of the film) law abiding doctor, has little in common with the white kidnappers, even though all three are white. Meanwhile, Detective Jackson (Elise) is law abiding and has zero in common with the Ice Cream man, and doesn’t exactly cry a river over the Ice Cream Man, even though both are black.
Overall, it’s a good film, though there are some gaping plot holes. For example, an early scene seems to argue that it’s rather unfair that Kersey has to wait a long time, do lots of paperwork, take a class, jump through hoops to buy a gun when he has an obvious need for self defense, given the recent murder of his wife. Yet, later, when he needs a gun stat, he’s able to get one from the same gun shop ASAP and that’s never explained.
And the main deviation from the original is that while Bronson’s Kersey never caught the baddies who ruined his life (a young Jeff Goldblum in a Jughead hat leading a gang of toughs), this Kersey does focus on tracking down the men who ruined his life, with the occasional deviation into extracurricular vigilantism.
So, there you go, I pretty much ruined the movie for you, but in my self-defense, I did give a SPOILER warning up front. It was no surprise to me that this film was rushed out of the theaters quickly. But then again, it’s just as surprising this film was ever made. Bruce Willis, one of the lone conservatives in Hollywood, was probably one of a handful of actors willing to even touch the script.