I’ll preface this review by saying, I have not seen Michael Winner’s 1974 Death Wish. My grandpa had one of the sequels, I believe Death Wish 3, on a VHS tape, and I know Charles Bronson was in it. That’s the whole of my knowledge of the franchise. I’ve made my general opinion about remakes known, but I’ll give Eli Roth kudos for his attempt to change my mind.
Dr. Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis) lives a peaceful life with his wife Lucy (Elizabeth Shue) and daughter Jordan (Camila Morrone) in Evanston on the Chicago North Shore. His brother Frank (Vincent D’Onofrio) occasionally needs a loan, but life is pretty sweet. Until Miguel (Luis Oliva), a valet at a restaurant, overhears the family plans to be out of the house for Paul’s birthday, steals the family’s home address from their GPS mapping computer, and sets up a robbery while they’re meant to be out.
But Paul is a doctor. A surgeon, to be exact, and the O.R. doesn’t care about family plans. So while Paul is at work, his wife and daughter go to pick up ingredients for a surprise birthday cake, and come home, right in the middle of the robbery. Jordan is wounded and ends up in a coma, but Lucy dies of a gunshot wound. They’re both brought to Chicago North, the hospital where Paul works, and he gets the birthday gift of seeing his wife dead and his daughter hooked up to machines that are keeping her alive.
He takes Lucy’s body home to her father Ben (Len Cariou) for burial in the family plot, and on the way back to Ben’s farm, Ben spots poachers on his property. Flinging his truck recklessly onto the pasture, he grabs a gun from his backseat and takes a few shots at their truck as it speeds away. He stands over the body of a deer the poachers were cutting up, and tells Paul that a man has to protect what’s his. Then he shoots the suffering deer.
I can’t help but blame Ben for the ensuing chaos, because the next hour and a half or so consists of Paul hunting down all the people involved in the robbery and thinking of painful ways for them to die. But it isn’t just his own vengeance; he starts out by taking down a pair of carjackers and slowly descends from there. He steals medication and equipment from the hospital he works at, and continues a spree of violence up until the very end.
If you’re a fan of kick-ass Bruce Willis, with a shaved head and a “take no prisoners” attitude, you’re going to like this movie. There’s a lot of graphic violence; it really earns that R rating. Which should be expected from a film called Death Wish, but a couple of scenes get particularly nasty, like when Paul pours brake fluid on the exposed sciatic nerve of a mechanic and then drops a car on his head. So a little heads up (no pun intended) about that. But it has a mostly happy ending, and a decent cast. All in all a fun thrill, so I guess it’s okay. For a remake.