Friday, 6 April 2018

Death Wish

'First do no harm' is one of the promises in the Hippocratic oath, an ethical standard all doctors must keep to during their career. This oath first came into being between 22 to 24 centuries ago and is attributed to Hippocrates, a man known as the father of modern medicine. Well do ye all hear a whirring sound? That's Hippocrates spinning in his grave over this depiction of one of his disciples.

Paul Kersey is a mild mannered and talented surgeon living and working in Chicago with his wife Lucy and his daughter Jordan who is off to college. Life is good for them but Chicago is experiencing an all time high murder rate and it isn't long before the Kersey's get a taste of it. A traumatised Paul decides to take matters into his own hands when he feels like the police aren't doing enough.

This film had its moments but fails more than it succeeds. Bruce Willis aside and more on him later, it annoyingly wastes a great cast including Elisabeth Shue and Vincent D'onofrio. It's an odd hotch potch of social commentary, satire, some wedged in comedy courtesy of Dean Norris's goofy cop, gore and revenge thriller and a very confused one at that. It takes pot shots(groan) at things like how easy it is to get a gun in America but then fetishises the same weaponry in the next scene. It tastelessly uses the real life murder rate of Chicago as a backdrop but then suggests more murder is the only way to solve it. It tries to have it's cake and eat it too which makes for an uneasy watch.

It's a remake of the 1974 Charles Bronson film that makes the same mistakes that film made and adds a few of it's own into the mix. Like that film it also takes an actor who can be good when he wants to be and lets him sleep walk through the role. Bruce Willis is on autopilot here and it's cringy to watch. This is the first leading role of his to make it to the cinema in 5 years and you'd think he'd make more of an effort but nope, it's just like his DTV stuff, in fact you wouldn't be blamed for wondering why he bothers anymore. Also like the original it casts an actor best known for his tough guy roles and expects viewers to be surprised when he turns from a normal trouble avoiding fella into a avenging AR-15 toting mincer of bad guys. This is the man who played John McClane for fuck sake. I'd have loved for the film-makers to take a chance and cast an actor best known for being a nice guy. Imagine someone like Tom Hanks as the lead in this. It probably wouldn't make the film any better but it would certainly be more interesting.

Speaking of AR-15's..... this film couldn't have been released at a worse time. America is in the midst of a hugely important gun control debate and a film like this will stick in the craw of many, especially with the amount of mass shootings lately that have used that very weapon. Usually you'd imagine a film like this would be delayed to avoid negative press attention but with the sheer amount of shootings in the States it's likely it would never be released with that course of action. Director Eli Roth claims this isn't a pro gun film but who's he kidding. This film is both repulsed by and in love with bullets. Just like the US of A.

All that said, there is some fun to be had in here. A split scene montage played out to the sounds of AC/DC slyly cuts to the quick of the film's schizophrenic view of things. It's a clever moment but quickly forgotten. And of course seeing bad guys get gunned down will always pander to our baser instincts. It's something that never gets old and the nastier the villain the more we love it. Roth's past experience as a horror director comes into play here and he stages a couple of gruesomely entertaining sequences including one in a garage that tests the limit's of the 16 certificate*. But herein lies the film's biggest problem. The original film was based on a book that was decidedly anti vigilante. The original film was most definitely pro vigilante. The remake is too. Eli Roth is a clever director and his earlier Hostel films, whilst not my cup of tea, surprised in the way they subverted cliches and our ideas of how a horror film should go. I expected that here too but got nothing. It's just a straight forward revenge thriller with some very dubious undertones.

*this sequence has been trimmed by distributors to avoid an 18 certificate in Ireland and the UK. 

If you want a brainless way to spend a couple of hours go see this. Other than that I can't really recommend it to anyone. Watch 2007's Death Sentence instead. An earlier Death Wish remake that's far better than this.

No comments: