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Bang Bang

Death Wish revels in its own toxic masculinity. Let this be the last time you think of this film

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Please put your finger guns away, Mr. Willis, we're ready to shoot now.
  • Please put your finger guns away, Mr. Willis, we're ready to shoot now.

I would call "Death Wish" insensitive, but that would be an insult to people born without senses.

Instead, "Death Wish" is more of a thoughtless fart in a car full of idiots; eyes twitching, nose burning, you taste something foul, but no one's confessing to the stench. Now all you have is a directionless rage, flying into the face of the innocent as well as the guilty.

I guess Eli Roth's "Death Wish" is better than Charlie Bronson's, but only because it's mildly less fascist and doesn't have a graphic and exploitative rape. Bruce Willis is a more nuanced actor than Bronson, but you wouldn't know it from this movie. His Paul Kersey is a doctor (instead of a teacher like in the original), so he's already numbed to blood and violence. That's perfect since Willis looks like he's suffering from a minor stroke the entire film. His face barely moves, and whether he's firing a gun, mourning his dead wife or torturing someone by slicing open their sciatic nerve, Willis constantly looks like he's one brisket sandwich away from a power nap.

When Kersey's wife is murdered and his daughter put into a coma after a home invasion, he throws on a hoodie and takes the law into his own hands. He's primarily hunting the men who destroyed his family, but he shoots a carjacker and a drug dealer for some practice.

In a different world, this would just be a below-average revenge thriller, but in the America of 2018, a white guy in a black hoodie shooting people of color (and a few white folk) isn't just poor timing; it plays like an NRA fever dream. You can just picture undead Charlton Heston sitting in a dark room, trembling hands, sliding sweaty dollar bills into the machine and waiting for the curtain to slide up for images of the "good guy with a gun" making bang-bang at the "bad guy with a gun."

Don't get me wrong, I don't have a huge amount of faith in the police. If someone murdered my wife I would want some bloody and brutal revenge. I'd hunt the guy to the ends of the Earth, even knowing the toll that would take on me. I can't imagine murdering someone, regardless of their crime, but Willis smirks his way through the movie like he's getting off on the mayhem. It might make for an interesting movie, but "Death Wish" has nothing beneath the surface other than director Eli Roth's desire to show exploding skulls and bloody dismemberment.

A few innocent bystanders get taken out because of Kersey's crusade and he doesn't take a moment to reflect. Early in the movie, when he sees himself on TV killing someone, he smiles, but later when he sees the negative side of his choices, he shuts the TV off. For a movie so focused on the defunct paradigm of the 1950s idea of masculinity, Kersey is a coward who never feels remorse or faces any personal consequences for his actions. It's like if "Dexter" ended with everyone jumping up in the air and high-fiving.

"Death Wish" being released a few weeks after "Black Panther" is the cinematic equivalent of Trump getting elected after Obama. I don't blame Hollywood or Eli Roth or even Bruce Willis for this dumpster fire. Sitting in that theater and hearing the audience giggle after Willis pops some guy's brains out the top of his head or sprays brake fluid into someone's open wound, I realized the filmmakers were giving us exactly what they think we want: Some kind of ugly Anglo-catharsis to help us feel safe against the strangers at our door—a cinematic gun we can wave around as we revel in our isolationism and hope all the faces around us will be familiar, similar and white.

Death Wish

Dir. Eli Roth

Grade: F

Old Mill Stadium 16 & IMAX


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