On this week’s Fresh Films, we explore the lengths to which a studio will go to glean every last cent out of nostalgic filmgoers, this time with added Bruce Willis.
[“Death Wish (Main Title)”-Herbie-Hancock]
Marcus Galeano: The thing about Bruce Willis is that I get the sense that now at this point in his career, if Bruce Willis senses a movie is shit he won’t try but if he senses it’s good he will try. And when he tries he’s good.
Marco Cartolano: So, welcome to Fresh Films. We’re a podcast devoted to new movies coming out in Evanston. I’m Marco Cartolano.
Marcus: I’m Marcus Galeano.
Elliot Kronsberg: I’m Elliot Kronsberg.
And today we’re going to be reviewing the remake of the 1970’s film Death Wish. Starring Bruce Willis, directed by Eli Roth. Eli Roth known for kind of gory horror films like…
Elliot: Cabin Fever.
Marco: Green Inferno.
Elliot: Hostel. So where do we want to start with this film?
Marcus: Let’s start with the synopsis. If you’re familiar with the 1974 film directed by Michael Winner, starring the immortal Charles Bronson, it’s basically the same setup. You got Paul Kersey. He’s sort of a upper-class white collar kind of guy. He has a wife and daughter who are assaulted during a home invasion. His wife is killed. In the previous incarnation of the film, his daughter was sexually assaulted and it’s sort of implied that she is in this one as well. And as a coping mechanism, Paul Kersey becomes a vigilante in his respective city. In the original it was New York, and now it’s Chicago.
Marco: For relevancy points.
Elliot: But he works at…
Marcus: Yeah he lives in Evanston. They name it by name. Like, he’s not in Chicago. It brings to life the meme “Bruh you’re from Evanston.”
Marco: Yeah, so they move it to Chicago because now Chicago is the city most infamous for gun violence.
Elliot: They make reference to that a lot. Throughout the film there are these radio commentators.
Marco: ...Local radio personalities. One of them is a conservative shock-jock personality. The other one is “Sway in the Morning” whose, I guess, more liberal. And, they have them debate the validity of vigilante justice.
Marcus: In a very, very lazy attempt to give the conflict some dimensionality and it doesn’t work at all.
Elliot: If I remember correctly, the conservative shock jock kind of likes what Paul Kersey’s doing and then Sway is like, “No this is not the way to solve our problems.”
Marcus: Well, they’re trying to make it a red vs. blue thing but in the original film that’s not really the interesting part of it. The more interesting aspect of the story is Paul Kersey’s transformation from a mild-mannered intellectual into a remorseless vigilante. And that’s much more interesting. And they sort of try to address that in this film. There’s one good scene around the third act with Bruce Willis and Vincent D'Onofrio where they sort of shine a little bit of light on that. But, that scene is sort of emblematic of a lot of the problems with this film. The few times they hint or point to something sort of interesting: they either never bring it up again, don’t explore it fully enough or just disregard it completely.
Marco: And I just think that all of it is really divorced from Bruce Willis’ own character arc. You never actually see him internalizing any of the conflict that is supposed to be presented by the duelling narratives, or any of the emotional grief for what he’s doing. It’s mostly him kind of going through the motions of what he’s doing. Increasingly getting better at it.
Marcus: It all feels very forced and obligatory to be totally honest. Because the logic being sort of Charles Bronson kind of sort of did this in the five previous Death Wish films, only one of which is good and only another one of which is ironically good. And they just say, “Do that,” but it’s very lazy.
Marco: Lazy can apply to a lot of things in this film. Mostly to Bruce Willis.
Marcus: Bruce Willis
Marco: Bruce Willis does not care in this film. He’s kind of miscast from the start because he’s supposed to be this upper-middle class doctor whose supposed to be kind of a bleeding heart liberal. But he’s Bruce Willis. For the entire duration of the film you don’t really see him emoting. Which is pretty bad because he has some dramatic scenes in the film there’s only like a handful of times his facial expression really changes that much.
Elliot: He doesn’t really seem to care about anything. It’s not really a red/blue issue it’s like a what Bruce Willis cares about and what he doesn’t care about. And the only thing he cares about is killing people once his wife is killed.
Marcus: Going back to what you said, Marco, about the casting. Yeah, you’re almost counting seconds until Bruce Willis goes on a rampage. It reminds me a lot of the later Death Wishsequels with Charles Bronson. It’s like, “Alright, we’re counting the seconds what’s going to be the inciting incident to provoke him to go on a rampage?” I feel like it would be a much more interesting casting to maybe pick someone who's always been typecast more as like an intellectual, less militant type. Maybe like a Jon Hamm or a Michael Keaton. And also going back to what Marco said about Bruce Willis, the thing about Bruce Willis at this point of his career is that I’ve gotten the sense that as Bruce Willis goes into a movie now, if he senses that the movie is bad he won’t try at all. And save for maybe two, maybe three scenes in this film. Yeah, he doesn’t care at all. Like you said, same facial expression, just going through the motions, screaming once or twice.
Marco: I remember there was this one scene where he has to cry but he has the same expression and they just put tears in his eyes. So it’s just Bruce Willis being all stone-faced and there’s just tears down his face.
Elliot: I actually read earlier that they wanted to cast Liam Neeson initially back in 2012 when the film first entered pre-production. They had the writer, they had the basic story they wanted to tell, but they didn’t have Eli Roth yet. They didn’t have Bruce Willis. And they wanted Liam Neeson who has thrust himself into action films, ironically after the death of his wife.
Marcus: Oh yeah I guess that did happen in real life.
Elliot: In interviews he said like, thats why he does it.
Marcus: That would be interesting on a meta-textual level i think.
Elliot: Maybe though I think…
Marcus: It would be just the same Liam Neeson B- films.
Elliot: I liked the Taken movies.
Marcus: The first one was good.
Elliot:What did you guys think of Vincent D’Onofrio in this? Because I think that his taste in roles has greatly diminished since Full Metal Jacket.
Marcus: He’s the Kingpin, he good as the Kingpin.
Elliot: Yeah, I guess. But I’ve seen him in a couple of movies recently. He was in the latest Rings. He was like a blind preacher. In this one he’s the brother and throughout the whole movie I’m thinking like, “Oh, the brother’s got something to do with it.” Like, the brother probably pissed off –
Marcus: I think they were going for something like that. But I think the studio rewrote it at the last minute. That’s the vibe I got. Cause you cast like a bigger name actor. But then the ultimate villain become some nobody who shows up unnamed 20 minutes before the movie ends.
Elliot: That’s another thing I wanted to talk about. There’s a scene where the daughter, she’s going home. And there’s Bruce Willis, there’s her, they get in the elevator with the head of the…
Marcus: The main antagonist.
Elliot:They go all the way down in the elevator. Nothing. They leave. I’m blanking on what exactly happens. All I remember is what should have happened. What should have happened is they get in the elevator with the bad guy. The elevator opens on the ground floor. It should be splattered with blood and the bad guy should be dead. But that’s not what happens. I remember now. They leave and then the bad guy follows them home. Right?
Marcus: Yeah, with a whole little militia group and then Bruce Willis goes to the store that days and buys a fully automatic machine gun, which by the way you can’t do contrary to popular belief. And he just has that and he wins the battle.
Marco: I also really just don’t think Eli Roth really cares that much about all the morality and the politics of the film.
Marcus: I would agree with that.
I think that they might have been more studio mandated or something. I think he wants to do an action film where he could do some setpieces that are a bit extreme. It’s not as extreme as his other films, but he has a scene where Bruce Willis is torturing a guy and it’s pretty graphic.
Marcus: But that’s like the only one though. I wasn’t expecting this movie to be good, but knowing Eli Roth I was definitely expecting this movie to be much more exploitatively violent. Ok It’s like he’s trying to sneak it in a little bit, but the studio’s just railing him back. Maybe for good reason. It might have been a more memorable film.
Elliot: His next film is an adaptation of a ‘70s gothic children’s book. I’m going to get it wrong. The House with a Clock in It’s...
Marcus: Oh wait that’s him? The House with a Clock in Its Walls, really?
Elliot: Yeah, with Jack Black. That’s his next movie.
Marcus: I’m looking this up right now I don’t believe. Holy shit you’re right.
Marco: I just think that Eli Roth just doesn’t care a lot about the morality parts of it he just wants to do weird stuff. Like there’s kind of this semi-satirical gun shop that’s portrayed as kind of silly.
Marcus:That was really tasteless. As a person who is familiar with gun culture, that’s a completely erroneous portrayal. Continue, sorry.
Marco: And there’s this one scene where he’s contrasting Bruce Willis loading a gun to him performing surgery with “Back in Black” by AC/DC playing and then…
Marcus: That could have been like a dark emotionally interesting moment and then you ruin it by playing “Back to Black.” Like what are you doing? And they try to revive the final shot of the original film with Charles Bronson. But they play “Back in Black” again and it ruins it.
[“Back in Black”-AC/DC]
Marco: Moving on now to our final verdicts. I’ll start. This film’s pretty bad. Bruce Willis was not into it at all. It felt really edited in post. And they wanted to get rid of plot points and kind of made it more jumbled. There was no internal struggle to any of it. All of the politics that are being discussed feel very external to the main plot of the film. It’s pretty much a forgettable B-movie that has the same name as a very popular ‘70s movie.
Elliot: Which was also a B-movie. Come on.
Marcus:It’s Dino De Laurentiis. It was eventually acquired by Cannon, the auteurs of B-movies.
Marco: Ok Elliot?
Elliot: Well, this was not a good movie. As we’ve discussed throughout this whole podcast. Eli Roth shouldn’t have done this film. It should have been like a Jaume Collet-Serra or whoever does the Taken movies. Because Eli Roth, this is just not his kind of movie. Like he should go back to gory horror movies or maybe kids movies, we’ll see. Bruce Willis does not emote at all. He’s not really acting. He’s just walking through the film occasionally shooting people. I’m trying to think if there’s any redeeming quality to this film and I can’t really think of any. Yeah, I would recommend not seeing this film ever if you can. Maybe if you watch all five Death Wishes and you’re like “I want to see what happens next.” Maybe you see this film and then you realize that you’re done with the Death Wish</> franchise. You don’t need to see anymore. But, if you don’t like Death Wish and you don’t like horrible films there’s no reason to see this one. Marcus, what do you think?
Marcus: On that same tangent. Look people if you would like a Death Wish film that takes its time, is executed in a mature way that fleshes out themes and emotional investment-worthy characters, I would suggest the original Death Wish from 1974 wit h Charles Bronson. If you want the other end of that extreme where there’s no attention or care paid to story or themes and you just want to watch Charles Bronson shoot ever little bastard in the seven block radius, watch Death Wish 3. That one’s kind of fun in a weird, ironic twisted way where they just didn’t care and it’s awesome. If you want a film that tries to lazily combine the two, but isn’t insane enough to be fun. And is too mild and boring to be worthy of emotional investment. With confusing themes that aren’t exactly fleshed out properly. Then this is the movie for you. I don’t know why you’d want to watch that movie, but ok.
Marco:This has been Fresh Films, a production of the audio section of NorthbyNorthwestern. Check us out on northbynorthwestern.com. Check us out on Apple Podcasts. I’m Marco Cartolano.
Marcus: I’m Marcus Galeano.
Elliot: I’m Elliot Kronsberg. Bye.
Marcus: See You.