American films

Death Wish film review: Bruce Willis exacts vigilante justice in sadistically violent thriller

The remake of the 1974 Charles Bronson thriller takes an even more positive view of the violent vigilante, bent on revenge for the attack on his family. Willis plays ‘The Grim Reaper’ as an ultra violent anti hero

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 June, 2018, 12:15pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 June, 2018, 12:15pm

2/5 stars

The only thing that’ll stop a bad guy with a gun is Bruce Willis with a gun, or so this ultraviolent revenge thriller from director Eli Roth and screenwriter Joe Carnahan would have you believe. Willis stars as Chicago surgeon Paul Kersey, who takes the law into his own hands after his wife is murdered and daughter left comatose by a gang of vicious burglars.

As Kersey exacts vigilante justice indiscriminately on Chicago’s low-lifes, he becomes the focus of a media frenzy, who dub him “The Grim Reaper” and offer words of encouragement for his actions. But as Kersey closes in on his wife’s killers, the police inch ever closer to discovering his true identity.

Brian Garfield’s original novel condemned vigilante violence, while Michael Winner’s controversial but successful 1974 film, starring Charles Bronson, championed Kersey as an everyman pushed to the edge by a failing system. Roth embraces his anti-hero even further, presenting a film that is shamelessly pro-gun, gleefully sadistic and packed with skull-cracking violence. One torture sequence in particular will have even hardened horror fans wincing through their fingers.

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Willis once epitomised the ordinary Joe pushed to extraordinary lengths, but has become such a hardened action veteran that his casting here misses the point entirely. Kersey’s descent into violence is not only unsurprising, but willed on by audience expectations.

Death Wish was never anything more than exploitation, and Roth’s film is better than most of the Bronson-era’s woeful sequels. But there was an opportunity here for Roth to take US gun culture to task, but it seems he’d rather help it reload.

Death Wish opens on June 14

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