Death Wish is a thoughtless fart

Director: Eli Roth
Cast: Bruce Willis, Vincent D’Onofrio, Elisabeth Shue, Camila Morrone, Dean Norris, Kimberly Elise
Runtime: 1h 47min

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; your eyes are twitching, your nose is burning and you can taste something foul in your mouth, but no one is confessing to the stench. So 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; which is perfect, since Willis looks like he’s suffering from a minor stroke for 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 daughter put into a coma after a home invasion, he throws on a hoodie and starts taking the law into his own hands. He is 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 colour (and a few white folk) isn’t just poor timing; it plays like an NRA fever dream. You can just picture un-dead Charlton Heston sitting in a dark room with 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 myself. I’d be tempted to hunt the guy to the ends of the earth even knowing the toll that would take on me psychologically. But I can’t imagine murdering someone, regardless of their crime.

Willis, though, smirks his way through the movie like he’s getting off on the mayhem. Which 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. There are no thoughts in Death Wish.

A few innocent bystanders get taken out because of Kersey’s crusade and he doesn’t ever take a moment to reflect on that. 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 1950’s idea of masculinity, Kersey is a coward who never feels remorse or faces any personal consequences for his actions. It’s as 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 even blame Hollywood or Roth or even Willis for this dumpster fire. Sitting in that theatre and hearing the audience giggling after Willis popped some guys brains out the top of his head or sprayed brake fluid into someone’s open wound, I realized they 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 that all the faces around us will be familiar, similar and white. 

Saurodeep Basak

About Saurodeep Basak

A caffeine dependent life form. Full-time procrastinator. A man-child. I have this new theory that human adolescence doesn’t end until your early thirties. A man of mystery and power whose power is exceeded only by his mystery. The only thing stopping me from shining in life is my sheer lack of motivation.


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