Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 12, 2018)
A reworking of the famous Charles Bronson flick from 1974, 2018’s Death Wish offers director Eli Roth’s take on the material. Dr. Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis) works as at a Chicago emergency room and lives a comfortable suburban existence with wife Lucy (Elisabeth Shue) and teen daughter Jordan (Camila Morrone).
Paul finds his life upended when Lucy and Jordan suffer a violent attack in their home. Intent on revenge, Paul becomes a vigilante who hunts for the perpetrators and takes down any other criminals he finds along the way.
Since I was seven when the original Bronson film hit screens, it comes as no surprise that I didn’t see it in 1974, but I can’t say why I never took it in over the subsequent 44 years. Of course, I knew much about, as the 1974 Wish remains a cultural touchstone, but for no particular reason, I didn’t watch it.
For better or for worse, this left me as a relative blank slate when I watched the 2018 Wish, for I wouldn’t reflexively compare it to the original. I could judge the remake on its own terms.
While I know Willis serves as one of the few Hollywood stars who supports Trump, I’m unaware of Roth’s politics. However, I do know that he claims Wish isn’t an attempt to tell a pro-gun tale.
If you believe that, you’ll believe anything, as it’s utterly insane to think that Roth didn’t want to send a message with Wish. Essentially a Red State wet dream of a violent fantasy, this movie goes out of its way to sell the need to aggressive self-defense.
Look, I don’t really want to spend a lot of time with political commentary. While I possess strong feelings on these matters, I try to keep my reviews separate from these topics, and I usually succeed.
However, when a movie comes with such a clear political agenda of its own, it becomes darned near impossible to shy away from those subjects. Before long I’ll visit the other side of the aisle with Bowling for Columbine, another film that inevitably brings politics into the discussion.
Because Columbine came out in 2002, it lacks the same current-day charge as Wish, though. While the Michael Moore documentary remains “fresh” due to its exploration of Second Amendment issues – still an exceedingly hot topic – it obviously doesn’t hit on Trump-era domains in the same way.
And make no mistake: Wish couldn’t be more of a “Trump film” even if Paul wore a MAGA hat the whole time. This feels like an exceedingly self-conscious attempt to connect with Trump supporters, as there’s little chance liberals will tolerate the movie’s worldview.
Indeed, Wish goes out of its way to denigrate the left side of the aisle. When we meet Paul, he gets portrayed as something of a coward, one who – gasp! – dares to view all life as sacrosanct, even the “animals” who commit violent crimes.
Of course, this changes and Paul becomes a “man” when he gets himself a pistol and shoots some bad guys. Wish indulges in a seriously fetishistic view of firearms, as Paul’s “training montage” comes accompanied by AC/DC’s “Back In Black” and seems intended to equate “gun user” with “virile heterosexual male”.
The film paints the whole experience in such a glowing manner it seems tough to believe the NRA didn’t bankroll the production. We hear strong messages about the positives of gun ownership with no hints of the negatives, and the use of a perky, sexy blonde as the face of the movie’s firearms store becomes an even more indulgent attempt to add appeal to weaponry.
I wouldn’t mind the film’s absolute lack of subtlety if it went whole hog and turned into a balls-to-the-wall “grindhouse” thrill ride. Death Wish seems ripe for that kind of crazed, over the top telling, one that marries Bronson to Tarantino.
However, Wish prefers to attempt its version of a serious drama, one that thinks it exists in the real world. It doesn’t, of course, but Roth clearly believes he gives us something weighty.
If he did, Wish would work better, but instead, Roth completely ignores the psychological ramifications of Paul’s violent journey. This makes no sense at all.
A man who devoted his entire life to the preservation of human life suddenly becomes a cold killing machine, and he doesn’t encounter even a single second of internal self-doubt? Apparently – Paul flips a switch and the movie never attempts to investigate these topics.
That’s a major failing in a movie that wants to follow a semi-serious path. Like I said, if Wish totally embraced a crazed “B”-movie vibe, I’d not mind the absence of character depth, but it attempts something more meaningful and fails miserably.
Because of this, Wish seems unlikely to satisfy many audiences. Too tame for the grindhouse crowd and too superficial for the drama fans, it does little to nothing right – unless you want to watch a long advertisement for guns, I guess.