Cinema Monolith

Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.

Death Wish

Death Wish - poster final
Cinema Monolith: 7/10
IMDb: 7/10
Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide: *** out of 4

Released on July 24, 1974
Rated R
93 minutes

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)

Death Wish

4 comments on “Death Wish

  1. Tyson Carter

    I watched this again recently after I reviewed Death Sentence (Kevin Bacon, excellent film!!) and got to agree with what you said Todd. Not going after the original 3 culprits was a real shock, and it felt a strange move. Good film, but I didnt love it. Havent seen any of the follow ups, not sure if he ever does get his revenge or not.

    • Todd Benefiel

      Yeah, that was the first thing that struck me when the film ended: wait a minute, what about those three guys! I haven’t seen any of the follow-ups either, but wouldn’t that be cool if he did use an entire sequel to take care of that oversight? We can only hope! And I’ll add Death Sentence to the queue!

  2. robbinsrealm

    Very good review! I haven’t seen the film in a long time, but I thought the reason Kersey couldn’t go after the original three thugs was because his wife was murdered during the attack and his daughter was traumatized to the point where she wouldn’t even have been able to identify the three men who raped her.

    • Todd Benefiel

      Thanks for the kind words! Yes, you’re right, based on the story that was presented, there was probably no way anyone was going to find those three, especially a man on his own like Kersey. I was just wishing that the screenplay had been written a bit differently…maybe with some clues pointing to at least one of the three thugs, and Kersey methodically tracking him/them down, while maybe taking out some other low-lifes in the process, keeping the existing film’s theme of vigilantism alive. But then again, that probably would’ve resulted in an entirely different film…one like Taken, perhaps. Which now that I think about it, is exactly the sort of story framework I was hoping for in Death Wish.

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