Tag Archives: death wish

Movie Review – Death Wish (2018)

Paul Kersey is back and his death wish is stronger than ever!

BQB here with a review.

SPOILERS ABOUND!

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.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy.

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What Can the Original Death Wish (1974) Movie Tell Us About the Gun Debate?

Hey 3.5 readers.

Your old pal BQB here.

So, here’s the deal.  Every new generation, for some reason, truly and sincerely believes they are the very first to discover an issue, as though prior generations had never considered it before.

For obvious and tragic reasons, the gun debate is raging all over TV and over the Internet these days.  Funny though, are you aware that a 44 year old movie pretty much sums up the arguments for and against gun control in one fell swoop?

No, I’m not talking about the recently released reboot starring Bruce Willis, although I do want to see it.

I’m talking about the original Death Wish, which by now, is roughly the same age as a middle aged man.  Hard to believe, isn’t it?  I rented it last night and dated as the film is, it still hashes out all the talking points about guns that are being bandied about today.

You see, 3.5 readers, in the early 1970s, there was a crime wave in the inner cities.  Nixon actually won the presidency due to promises to get tough on crime.  People were fed up by the fact that they couldn’t walk down the street without getting hassled by hoodlums and Hollywood cashed on in this development, producing all manner of films where tough guys, fed up with the system’s inability to protect them, take law into their own hands and blow bad guys away with big ass hand cannons.  “Death Wish” was the most notable of these films, though it runs neck and neck with Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry” series.

The plot?  New York City architect Paul Kersey is a mild mannered liberal professional and family man.  He loves his wife, his daughter, and abhors violence, having even been given a medical corps position during the Korean War to avoid having to kill anyone.

All this changes when his wife is killed and daughter brutally raped by a pack of hooligans led by none other than a young Jeff Goldblum.  “Life uh..finds a way.”

While some hero tales provide an instant transformation i.e. the main character instantly gains powerful skills overnight, Kersey’s progression from frumpy dad to badass killing machine is a slow one.

Kersey’s informed there’s not much the police can do.  His son-in-law, Jack, laments that to the government, his wife and Paul’s wife are little more than statistics, a certain number of crime victims that the powers that be deem acceptable, even normal, and that they’ll just have to suck it up and get used to it.

Pissed, Kersey starts carrying a sock full of quarters to protect himself.  When a mugger attacks him, he gives the mugger a sock knock and sends the ne’er-do-well running.   He learns an interesting lesson – if criminals are made to fear for their lives, they’ll run.

Our hero then takes a sojourn to Arizona for work, we he meets Aimes, a business associate who can only be described as a walking, talking caricature of a died in the wool NRA member on steroids.  Frontier justice, Aimes says, is the name of the game in the West.  Everyone’s packing heat and criminals know they’ll be instantly bagged and tagged, so crime rates are low according to the cowboy.

Aimes takes Kersey to a range and we can see Kersey feel like he’s regaining control of his life as he takes aim at targets and fires.  He reveals that he did some hunting in his youth and had to qualify as a marksman in the Army, so he has some skill.  The cowboy gives the city slicker a present, a rather menacing looking revolver.

When Kersey returns to NYC, he starts carrying the pistol.  Oddly, he’s accosted by another mugger.  Kersey keeps his cash and puts a bullet in the bad guy instead.  He runs home and is so horrified by what he’s done that he throws up.

But soon…Kersey becomes addicted to murdering criminals…or does he?  It’s sort of an up for interpretation part of the film.

Fun fact – although he’s portrayed as an out of control vigilante, Kersey technically never does anything illegal.  He just takes a lot of walks in the middle of the night in dangerous neighborhoods, on subways, in parks, and is sure to flash a wallet full of money in seedy establishments and/or look like a bumbling old man by carrying groceries.  He never attacks anyone who doesn’t attack first.

Maybe he really is just an old bumbler with a lot of bad luck…but most likely, he’s out trolling, just waiting, nay wishing that some mugger would attack him so he can shoot them in self-defense.

And that’s the rub.  Kersey never shoots anyone who didn’t draw a pistol or a knife on him first.

The overall theme of the movie?  If people arm up, bad guys will pussy out.  Not really a popular message today.

The alternative argument, that society will descend into chaos if everyone is carrying a gun, is briefly explored, but ultimately, it’s suggested that bumbling politicians are to blame.  During one such meeting of incompetent NYC bureaucrats, it’s noted that “the vigilante’s” hijinx have cut muggings down by half, but they’ll never tell the public for fear that the city will become a war zone.

But what’s the alternative?  Better governance?  More police?  A better economy?  More social welfare programs?  A better world where the poor have no need to rob and steal?  Nah, the politicians aren’t going to do any of that.  They’d really just prefer it if families of crime victims like Kersey would shut up, accept their statistic status and go along as if nothing happened.

Is it an awesome film?  In many ways, yes.  The gradual progression from pacified weakling to macho asskicker is fun to watch.

Is it open to criticism?  Yes.  In the past, criminals were portrayed as cartoon characters, bums who made a conscious decision to avoid the honest pay that a hard day’s work could provide and to seek a quick buck by hassling the law abiding instead.  Ergo, they deserved the new holes that Kersey gave to them.  And sure, that often happens but in today’s cinema, criminals are usually given a heartwarming backstory that makes you feel as though the person could not have helped becoming a criminal (often the case, though not always.)

Is the film racist?  Well, I mean, yeah, Kersey does shoot an awful lot of black dudes.  But he shoots white dudes too.  And there are many law abiding African-American characters, from a police officer that assists Kersey in the investigation into his wife’s death, to a working class couple who see a duo of white crooks enter a subway train and decide to get off at the next stop rather than deal with them, to an old black lady who, inspired by tales of the vigilante on the news, whips out a hat pin and stabs the shit out of two reprobates who try to run off with her purse.

I mean yeah, to borrow an SJW term, a white character gunning down so many black characters is “problematic.”  You could argue that perhaps there is a universal code of right and wrong, that no matter what color you are, if you point a gun or a knife at anyone of any color, then you’re getting what’s coming to you if the threatened person takes you out.  It’s a daily war against crime, with law abiding people of all different colors and backgrounds vs.  crooks of all different races and backgrounds.  White Paul Kersey and black old lady with the hat pin are on the same side – two good people who just want to walk home without getting accosted for the money they worked for.

But still, yeah, an awful lot of black dudes buy the farm in this movie so…how to rectify that?  I don’t know.  Maybe if there’s ever another reboot of this film, a black actor could play the Paul Kersey role, gunning down a rainbow of hoodlums from all different backgrounds, or just white guys, or really, does it matter what color the shooter or the person shot is as long as the shooter was being attacked and the attacker was, in fact, a threat to life?  Bruce Willis is one of very few conservative actors willing to touch this franchise, though I think Hollywood missed a real opportunity to hold a coup if they would have cast, say, Denzel Washington or Jamie Foxx as Paul Kersey.

Oh well.  Don’t picket my blog.  I liked the movie though I realize in many ways it’s un-PC, hokey, tacky and well, probably doesn’t hold up today.  I mean, sure if you stand out in NYC in the middle of the night for long enough, you might get robbed once, but no one is as unlucky as Kersey, getting robbed over and over, even if you are out walking around, wishing that someone would rob you so you could kick their ass.  (Note:  just give them the money.)

All in all, what does this old movie tell us?  Does it have any relevance to today’s gun debate?  Basically, the politicians of this movie, just as the politicians in real life today, are as clueless and inept as ever.  Gun control is a sensitive issue and no matter what side you’re on, government officials appear clueless and inept when they fail to make us all safe…and citizens must keep pressure on politicians to make the world a safer place because at the end of the day, they’re lazy and happy to just let victims become more statistics, more faceless victims, more deaths to be expected as just a matter of fact of life.

Overall, depending what side of the fence you’re on, you’ll hate or love this film.  And honestly, I can see why you’d hate or love it.

 

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