“Death Wish”: YES. Starring Bruce Willis in a sympathetic and charismatic performance as an average husband and father pushed over the edge by tragic crimes against his family, it’s fast-paced, exciting, sometimes funny and should stir interesting post-movie discussions about guns and whether revenge is justified.
Ratings on a scale of 1-10 on what it’s trying to achieve:
CONVERSATION STARTER: 10
OVERALL: 8.6 out of 10
Two films with views on vengeance
This past weekend marked the debut of two violent thrillers— “Red Sparrow” and “Death Wish”— that featured heroes bent on revenge at all costs, both for highly personal reasons. Considering that the films star major movie stars, with “Red” focused on Jennifer Lawrence and “Death” built upon Bruce Willis’ macho charisma, it’s obvious that Hollywood is hoping for viewers to cheer their protagonists on.
But in an age where our highly divided society is already prone to too much violence, are these films a healthy diversion from real-life madness, providing a safe outlet for our anger and frustration? Or do they risk fueling our worst instincts?
“Red” unfortunately serves up brutal violence and gratuitous, graphic nudity as Lawrence plays a Russian star ballerina who is forced to train as a killer whore for the state, and executes a twisted plan for revenge on those who reduced her to that existence.
“Death Wish” takes a surprisingly tasteful yet exciting look at the issue
“Death Wish” is a remake of the 1974 Charles Bronson cult classic about a mild-mannered man who is pushed into buying a gun and cleaning up the streets when he feels cops have failed him in finding the thugs who killed his wife and raped his teenage daughter.
Given these descriptions one might think that “Red Sparrow” is the classier of the two, sure to put smart writing ahead of grisly violence. But that would be, well, dead wrong. “Sparrow” is simply repellent and not even worth discussing.
On the other hand, “Death Wish” is surprisingly tasteful and responsible in its use of violence while maintaining a truly exciting and fun atmosphere. It also incorporates thought-provoking discussions on how far a person should go to protect their family, and how far we as a society should extend our Second Amendment rights when the police are too overwhelmed to be effective.
Bruce Willis makes this a sympathetic character sure to stir debate
Willis plays Paul Kersey, a mild-mannered doctor in Chicago. He at first lets the cops solve the crimes, but when they can’t seem to catch a break and he sees a wall filled with index cards on unsolved murders, he gets a handgun and starts cleaning up the streets while searching for leads.
The resulting mayhem sets the cops racing after him as well, while local talk-radio hosts engage a raging debate over the righteousness or wrongheadedness of his crusade.
“Death Wish” is a pleasant surprise on many levels. First, Willis wakes up and delivers a fully fleshed-out, charismatic performance for the first time in years. People used to love him as the most “everyman” of action heroes, and that’s a role he fills well here.
Second, director Eli Roth (the “Hostel” movies, “The Green Inferno”) seemed like he’d be a disastrous choice for this film because of his past reputation as the king of “torture porn” movies. Here, he shocks more with his restraint, leaving the initial rape and murder off-screen — marked improvements from the grisly on-camera crimes committed in the Bronson original. He also delivers a film that works with crisp finesse and maximum efficiency on every level.
Bringing both sides of the gun debate together
I’m as anti-gun as a guy can get, and I still loved this movie. Of course, in real life I don’t believe in people taking to the streets with guns. In fact, I think most guns ought to be banned, period.
Those who are either moderates about gun ownership or outright advocates will likely love this movie even more. It’s rare that Hollywood portrays a traditional right like the Second Amendment’s promise of gun rights as a positive, and conservatives should be delighted by the fact this film does just that.
What does the Church say about revenge?
One aspect that might be interesting to consider as well is to ask what the Church says about self-defense? It doesn’t advocate going outside the law for revenge after the fact, but at the actual moment of danger, the Church’s official teaching has been summarized by the site www.catholicgentleman.net:
- We have a legitimate right to self defense based on rightly ordered self love
- We have a duty to protect those in our care, such as our families
- Force should be used in moderation. Force should be met with like force.
- The taking of a human life in self defense should be a last resort, when all other options have been exhausted
But while gazing at a screen and imagining a world in which guys like Paul Kersey make a stand for all of us, a film like “Death Wish” is an unbelievably satisfying experience. Most critics have hated on “Death Wish” for being pro-gun, but I have no doubt this is going to be a major hit because the average moviegoer wants to feel empowered, even if it’s for two hours at a time.