Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released on July 24, 1974
Directed by Michael Winner
Written by Wendell Mayes, based on the novel by Brian Garfield
Cast: Charles Bronson, Hope Lange, Vincent Gardenia, Stuart Margolin, William Redfield, Steven Keats, Kathleen Tolan, Christopher Guest, Jeff Goldblum, Olympia Dukakis, Paul Dooley, Eric Laneuville, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Al Lewis, Denzel Washington
The film wastes no time getting to it: shortly after architect Paul Kersey returns home to New York City following a Hawaiian getaway, his wife and daughter are attacked and brutalized by three hoodlums, a vicious and senseless encounter that made an uncomfortable impact even today. And so we were established for what followed, and whether you call it retaliation, vengeance, or simple payback, it was Charles Bronson, playing Kersey, who spent the rest of the film delivering it, and to those he believed deserved it.
Like Dirty Harry and The French Connection, two crime thrillers also from the early 1970s, Death Wish had a ‘good guy’ hero going outside the law to deliver justice, and in that regard director Michael Winner and screenwriter Wendell Mayes delivered the goods; if it’s Bronson in ass-kicking mode you’re looking for (or in this case, ass-killing mode), then you’ve come to the right place. However, the film does ask a few serious questions amidst the carnage, such as: what does it take to push a man over the edge, and at what point does vigilantism become outright murder?
Normally, I’m a fan of revenge films, but this one left me in sort of a quandary. On one hand, I loved the fact that Bronson single-handedly took on the scum of New York City, and played it steely-eyed and tough in doing so, in the tradition of a wild west gunslinger. But on the other, it bothered me—and as someone who needs things tidy, disappointed me as well—that Bronson didn’t hunt down the original three who terrorized his family, but instead went after every other viable candidate, and went as far as to purposely look for trouble (riding the subway alone, flashing money in a seedy coffee shop, and walking Central Park late at night), seemingly to satisfy the executioner role that, at first, he’d reluctantly assumed, but had now become comfortable with, and would soon become weary of.
And with Manhattan portrayed as a veritable hell of muggers, vagrants, and prostitutes, you couldn’t help but side with Bronson’s character and his plight…but does that mean one should condone such behavior, in film or otherwise? Let me put it this way: if it were my wife killed and daughter raped, and I found the punks responsible, it would take a dozen Hazmat teams to clean up the mess I’d make of them. So on that note, I’d say Death Wish is worth a look, especially for those who don’t mind a little honest retribution doled out in their films…and who also enjoy spot-on wrap-ups that leave things open for sequels. (7/10)