Did the world need a new Death Wish? Probably not, but we got one anyway and it isn't altogether half bad. Where Bruce Willis actually looks like he's trying to make something of the part, the film, unfortunately, slips away from a strong and genuinely serious start and becomes the sort of silly gleefully trashy extravaganza of violence of Bronson's own Death Wish III, IV, and V. If you like your action lowbrow it's a fun trashy time. If you're expecting an earnest meditation of gun violence, remember this is an Eli Roth movie. Fox brings Death Wish to Blu-ray in fine order with a strong A/V presentation and an impressive assortment of interesting bonus features. This Death Wish certainly isn't for everyone, but it is at the very least Worth A Look.
1974's Death Wish was a breakout role for Charles Bronson. It was a schlocky but well-intentioned study of the dangers of vigilantism. The sequels may have stretched far beyond the point of credibility but at least they offered some fun exploitation violence to devour. As Bronson was so identifiable with his pacifist-gone-vigilante Paul Kersey it's difficult to imagine anyone else in the role - or even the need to revisit it 45 years later. But, remakes and reboots are the name of the game these days so it was only a matter of time. With horror director Eli Roth at the helm and Bruce Willis in the lead, 2018's Death Wish doesn't reinvent the wheel but is merely content with giving it another spin.
Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis) has everything he's ever wanted. He's a brilliant E.R. surgeon in Chicago and committed to saving lives. He lives on Chicago's beautiful North Shore in a massive home with his wife Lucy (Elisabeth Shue) and his daughter Jordan (Camila Morrone). Everything is picture perfect until the day a robbery-gone-wrong leaves Lucy dead, Jordan in a coma, and the lead detective Raines (Dean Norris) unable to answer Paul's questions or demand for progress. With his life turned upside down and nowhere else to turn, the pacifist Paul Kersey begins illegally acquiring firearms and takes the law into his own hands on a quest for vengeance.
I lived in Chicago for the last four years, during its worst outbreak of murder and violence in nearly 20 years. You couldn't go hardly a few hours without hearing about how some poor random kid was killed or how someone was caught in the crossfire. The city was already at a boiling point when Roth and crew decided to shoot Death Wish in the city and added fuel to the fire. When the first tone-deaf trailer dropped, it's easy to understand how the outcry could push the film to change its original fall 2017 release date into the dead of winter. To say it's timing was bad would be an understatement.
Now that the cat is out of the bag, was the outcry worth it? The short answer is no, not really. One could argue that the film is a bit tone deaf and in poor taste, but even the original '74 Death Wish was exploitive of similar circumstances. The largest issue facing this Death Wish is its sense of pacing and tone. The front half is actually pretty solid stuff. Bruce Willis is delivering one of his better performances in recent years - the man actually looks like he gives a damn. The setup of a doctor who is on the tail end of the violence trying to plug holes and save lives is actually an interesting place to dig in from. Even as Willis' Kersey tries to make sense of the helplessness he feels after his family is destroyed there is still something relatable happening. It all goes out the window when Willis starts watching YouTube videos about guns and how to use them, clean them. Then it becomes so comically silly that you can either accept it and go on with the flick, or rebel.
If you want to enjoy this Death Wish, it's probably best to just go with it. Think of it as a weird alternate reality of Death Wish III where Willis' Paul Kersey can dispatch street justice while enjoying praise from media personalities throughout Chicago. The movie isn't trying to say anything, it doesn't actually have a message. In true Eli Roth fashion, you're there to watch Bruce Willis do what he's always done pretty damn well - fire some guns at some bad guys… and crush a dude's head with a car, because that scene was pretty awesome. To cap things off Vincent D'Onofrio delivers a nicely understated sympathetic performance as Willis' brother Frank. The two share a nice familial chemistry. I just wish there were more scenes between them. The handful of moments helps keep the flick grounded enough to let you breathe in between bouts of gunfire.
This Death Wish harkens back to the late 70s early 80s action exploitation flicks. It's not meant to be woke in its depiction of women when Shue is refrigerated early and Morrone lays around in a coma for 90 odd some minutes. It's not meant to be sensitive to cultural issues of significance even though it has managed to exploit the conversations of the moment with the ramifications of gunfire and the idea of the mythical "good guy with a gun." Throw all of that away. Death Wish isn't about that. It's an action dude movie and that's it. A thinking man's action movie this is not. This is true pizza and beer entertainment and for the most part, it succeeds.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Death Wish arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of MGM/Fox in a two-disc Blu-ray + DVD + Digital set. Pressed onto a region A BD-50 disc, the discs are housed in an eco-friendly Blu-ray case with identical slipcover. The disc loads to preview for upcoming releases before arriving at an animated main menu with traditional navigation options.
Death Wish fires away with a solid 1080p 2.40:1 transfer that does a pretty good job of portraying the dark and gritty seedy side of its Chicago and Montreal filming locations. Shot digitally, this film manages all of the trappings of a well-budgeted modern action flick while also showcasing the best aspects of the moodiness and grime of an exploitation thriller. Details are strong throughout with facial features and textures coming through beautifully. Kersey's bunker is a solid setting of production design work as is Detective Raine's office with his unsolved murder board. Colors are spot on with great primaries, neon lighting and storefronts in the nighttime scenes look great and the city's yellow/orange streetlight vibe is pretty accurate to the look and feel of a Chicago back alley. Black levels are inky and look great giving the image a nice sense of depth. The only trouble spot is during the club shootout the image could look a bit hazier with a little bit of noise to it, but the scene is so brief that it's not a major issue. All in all, this is a fine presentation for this film.
When the guns start firing, the DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix for Death Wish is at its best. The action punch and surround activity really comes to life in a satisfying and thrilling way. Quieter and conversational moments with Willis and D'Onofrio hold their own well with some nice spacial sense and dimension, the scenes in the cramped bunker in Kersey's basement is pretty good. When the action moves to the hospital where Kersey works things pick up nicely as there is a flurry of activity. However in between these moments, whenever the action features one-on-one conversations, it can feel a bit flat and front/center without much directionality going on. Thankfully the score by Ludwig Göransson picks up a lot of the slack during the slow bits to keep the mix lively and engaging without overpowering the mix. The dialog is clean and clear throughout. Free of any issues, this is a strong mix for this film.
Surprisingly enough Death Wish actually has a pretty decent assortment of bonus features. The commentary track with Eli Roth and producer Roger Birnbaum is a solid listen and the deleted materials and some of the smaller making of bits round out a nice package.
Audio Commentary featuring director Eli Roth and producer Roger Birnbaum. Roth dominates this track as to be expected, but it's a solid listen as he delves into virtually every scene breaking down intentions and execution.
Deleted Scenes with optional commentary (HD 6:10) Not a lot of huge material here but still a couple decent moments that were cut for pacing issues mostly.
Mancow Morning Show Extended Scenes (HD 3:39) This is simply longer scenes of the moments from the film. Nothing too groundbreaking here but still an interesting look.
Sway in the Morning Extended Scenes (HD 2:51) Like the Mancow Morning show, just longer segments of the moments from the film.
Vengeance and Vision: Directing Death Wish (HD 11:44) Eli Roth is the focus of this bit, but we do get some talking head EPK cutaways from Willis and Birnbaum to mix things up a bit. It's a nice companion to the commentary track.
Grindhouse Trailer (HD 2:02) This is probably the most entertaining extra of the bunch as Roth made a more trashy and exploitive trailer for the film that actually probably sells the movie for what it is better than what film's actual marketing team delivered.
Theatrical Trailer (HD 2:25)
While certainly being unnecessary and failing to bring anything new to the world, this Death Wish isn't all that bad. It's not great. I still love the originals and the sequels more, but I would be lying if I said I didn't have a good time. Bruce Willis delivers one of his better performances in the last few years and viewed through the lens of a trashy action-packed exploitation flick you're not meant to think about, it delivers. It's probably Eli Roth's most competently executed film to date. Granted that's not huge praise but it's at least something. Fox/MGM delivers this new Death Wish onto Blu-ray with solid results. The A/V presentation gets the job done and the bonus feature package is surprisingly versatile. Haters of remakes and reboots should probably stay away, but if you're down for a little tasteless sleaze, I gotta say I had fun with Death Wish. Worth A Look.