A pointless reboot, which sees Bruce Willis reviving a role, made famous by Charles Bronson in the 1974 original, the film follows a citizen who turns vigilante after thugs kill his wife. Arguably, one of Bronson’s best films, the story was first told in Brian Garfield’s 1972 novel of the same name, and then in director Michael Winner’s 1974 landmark action drama and spawned several sequels.
To its credit, this millennial version does stick with the same storyline. It builds the backstory of portraying Dr. Paul Kersey (Willis) as a successful mild-mannered surgeon who has it all: a beautiful family and a lovely home, but things go horribly wrong one day after a home invasion in which his wife (Elisabeth Shue) is killed and his daughter (Camila Morrone) ends up in a coma.
He initially leans on his brother Frank (Vincent D’Onofrio) for help, and on Detectives Raines and Jackson (Dean Norris and Kimberly Elise who are underutilized in their roles). Once he realizes the perpetrators will never be found, his inner fury is suddenly blown into vengeance against crime in general and he turns into a vigilante.
New York is swapped for Chicago, which makes sense given the city’s crime stats and social media and digital technology provide an added layer to this modern version. Beyond that, there’s little else to offer other than social commentary on ‘right versus wrong’ in this remake directed by Eli Roth (“Hostel”). Coined the Grim Reaper after a video of Kersey stalling a carjacking goes viral, black radio hosts do their best to inject a little humor and social commentary by highlighting the racial aspect of a hooded white guy with a gun imposing his own brand of justice.
“Is he right for taking the law into his own hands?” asks radio host Sway in one scene. “He’s become a folk hero,” remarks another commentator in the footage.
Much like the original, Willis poses as a middle-aged citizen who seeks and murders criminals. We’ve seen the actor play a tough guy in the “Die Hard” franchise so this isn’t stretch for Willis and the role would have been best served with a lesser-known and more enigmatic actor. Also missing is the raw music score by Jazz legend Herbie Hancock, which helped establish the mood and would have been a nod to the original.
Over the last twenty years, countless studios have sought to cash in on our love for nostalgic classics by churning out remakes and “Death Wish” is a remake I wish the studios could have left well alone but then again, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
“Death Wish” releases in theaters Friday.
Samantha Ofole-Prince is an entertainment industry specialist and contributes to Trendy Africa Magazine from Los Angeles. Photos by Takashi Seida / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures