Thursday, 19 April 2018

Review: Death Wish

Death Wish (2018)
Cert: 15 / 107 mins / Dir. Eli Roth / Trailer

leaden (adj.)
1. Made of lead.
2. Oppressively heavy; sluggish; lacking spirit or animation.
3. Joe Carnahan's screenplay for the objective-free 2018 remake of Death Wish.

So, is 2018 the best or worst time for a post-modern deconstruction of the fragility of 21st century Western masculinity and gun-control issues? Well, don't you worry about that! Eli Roth has remade Death Wish with Bruce Willis, so troublesome questions will receive all the ponderous scrutiny you'd see from Donald Trump at a salad bar. This film is about as heavyweight as the single sheet of A4 it was pitched on, and every bit as layered...

I imagine we're all vaguely familiar with the plot setup of Death Wish, but here it is anyway: hard working, blue-collar (well, an ER doctor) family man Bruce Willis*1 is out of the house one night when a burglary by some local thugs goes wrong. This leaves his wife dead and daughter hospitalised. Like anyone, Bruce's first reaction is to seek revenge on the escaped perpetrators, because the goddamned cops just can't seem to get the job done. Like anyone in a film, he manages to acquire firearms illegally*2 and begin his gruesome task. There's some shooting, some crying, some more shooting and eventually the same cops let him get away with it because he's a vigilante who is white*3.

But y'know what? This is A Saturday Night Movie and I watched it on a Saturday night*4, so has anyone really been conned?

The central plot-conceit of Willis hunting his family's attackers is at least more of a driving force in this telling*6, but the amount of actual detective work our doctor has to do is kept to a bare minimum, as there are apparently only about twelve criminals in Chicago, so everything falls into his lap in short order. If only the rest of the Death Wish was so efficient.

When the cast aren't discussing exactly what's just happened in the previous scene or what they think is going to occur in the next, they verbalise their feelings and inner monologues, since apparently that's as good as them doing acting. Willis has the look of a man who does not want to be here, and every disinterested grimace brought to mind Kevin Smith's anecdotes about his time on Cop-Out. One suspects that director Eli Roth 'got the moon' on this particular set.

Roth's not that interested in the sleuth work, and he's certainly not in this for the moral ambiguity. Nope, uncle Eli has rocked up for the grudge-match gunfire, but even this is bereft of the unbridled joy he's brought to such endeavours in the past. If this had been Tarantino and two decades earlier, the screenplay might have gotten away with seeming ironic. In 2018 it just feels dated, even (especially) with Memes™ shoehorned in as horrifically as Bastille Day's use of #Hashtags.

When the finale eventually cruises into view, you know the director's been waiting for it every bit as much as he hopes the audience have. As so often in real life, the violence is short, messy and oddly anti-climactic. Maybe that's the real message of the film?

While I'm thankful that Death Wish is nowhere near as grubby as Knock Knock, it's clear that Roth's not trying to make anything unique, here. And since the original film has a further 4 sequels (the last in 1994), you have to wonder what the point is, if there's no new angle being presented.

With Bruce skulking around the back streets in his hoodie, this feels like an unofficial, ramped-up sequel to Unbreakable, which would have been more interesting at least. And if the final scene in Split is anything to go by, it would have been far funnier as well...*7

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Things like Homefront.

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
It's not.

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Streaming / £3 DVD, max.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It's not.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
That's conceivable.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Bruce Willis was in Unbreakable with Sam 'Windu' Jackson.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 He has a character-name in this, but I'm not going to use it because it's not important. Bruce Willis has been cast because he looks, sounds and acts like Bruce Willis™. He certainly didn't get the part because he was eager, but we'll get to that... [ BACK ]

*2 Bruce Willis™ is a surgeon in this, you see. A bad man came into the hospital on a trolley and a 3-kilo handgun fell out of his pocket and onto the hard, hospital floor, but it did this silently so that Bruce Willis was able to surreptitiously pick it up without his colleagues or anyone in the corridor seeing him do it. Also, there's a bit in a gun shop where the assistant tells him (practically winking to the camera with both eyes) that passing the minimal safety training for owning a handgun is really easy. This is probably supposed to come off as 21st century satire, but given that everyone in the cinema has come specifically to watch Bruce Willis shoot people in the face, I'm not sure who the butt of the joke is supposed to be. [ BACK ]

*3 Truth be told this aspect isn't even addressed in the film, but I really don't think it needs to be since anyone who watches the news knows how this shit would go down in real life with a white vigilante and a black one. [ BACK ]

*4 A Saturday evening screening of a revenge-shooter attracts an audience which could be described as... how best to put this... 'casual'. Fidgety, chortley*5, and remarkably hungry, the guy next to me had brought his own pretzels. And not in a crinkly-bag, but a fucking foot-long jar. Hey, I'm not the snack police, and while at least he wasn't rustling the wrapper, the upshot was that I had to hear him chewing for most of the movie. Which was still better than a lot of the dialogue. [ BACK ]

*5 And while I'm on, a special shout-out to my fellow patron who exclaimed his appreciation of the script's sardonic jokes in a manner which sounded like a seal operating an air-horn. People with annoying laughs aren't particularly unusual of course, but the same guy had barked through the deapan one-liners in both Ghost Stories and Thoroughbreds that day. Seriously, I know I can't be the only one who goes out for a #FilmDay, but I do that for my own enjoyment, not to inflict my enjoyment back on the auditorium. And yes, a footnote within a footnote. Isn't it, though? [ BACK ]

*6 I mean, let's not lionise the 1974 original movie. Sure, it was 'first', but Michael Winner directs like it's a 1960s TV commercial. [ BACK ]

*7 Which, one assumes, would be right up Seal-Boy's alley... [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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