On one hand, it is nice to see Bruce Willis actually appearing to care about a role in 2018. On the other, Eli Roth's Death Wish remake feels unnecessary, as have several of the horror director's recent projects. It is not as if this story needed updating; there's already a very competent version of this professional-turned-vigilante tale in Michael Winner's 1974 original Death Wish, starring Charles Bronson. That said, Death Wish 2018 is not a terrible film. It is entertaining, decently acted and very bloody. The film's best trick is the bait-and-switch its marketing team did when they offered up a fairly standard revenge tale to audiences unfamiliar with the gore and violence of Roth's seedier projects. I can now add MoviePass to the things this movie was made for, a list that also includes Redbox and late-night cable. You may be too late to use the former to see Death Wish, but the latter home-entertainment options are still viable.
Surgeon Paul Kersey (Willis) inadvertently invites intruders to his home when his valet overhears that Paul and his family will be away from home that evening. That does not happen thanks to Paul's on-call schedule, and several men break into the Kersey's home, which is occupied by Lucy (Elisabeth Shue) and the couple's daughter Jordan (Camila Morrone). Both women are shot. Lucy dies soon after, and Jordan is taken to the hospital, where she falls into a coma. Paul learns of the crimes when one of the incoming trauma patients turns out to be Jordan. He is temporarily removed from duty, heavily distraught. In the following days, Paul works with Detective Kevin Raines (Dean Norris) but is frustrated by the lack of developments, fearing his wife's case will be like the dozens of other unsolved murders in Chicago. Paul eventually pockets a gun from a gang member being treated in the emergency room, and begins to take the law into his own hands.
This updated Death Wish is softer than the original from its early home invasion. In the original, the daughter was sexually assaulted. Roth chooses to forego that unpleasant plot point, instead placing Jordan in an immobile state. This is not the 1970s, so Death Wish is less gritty than its predecessor, even if it amps up the graphic violence. I did not expect the amount of humor here, much of it thanks to Willis and Vincent D'Onofrio, who plays Paul's brother, Frank. That is actually a welcome addition, and Roth gives the action a sort of campy, heightened reality. Paul's first trip to a gun store, after seeing a commercial with its vivacious spokeswoman, is awkward and unproductive. He later becomes heavily armed, and the film offers a successful late-game joke that is a direct callback to the earlier store visit. As competent as Willis is, I can't help but think a different actor should have played this role. It is hard to erase decades of memories in which Willis plays the hero, and those make it difficult to buy his backsliding, morally ambiguous character here.
The original film and its 1972 source material were released amid the height of violent crime in America. This update falls on a society with different concerns, though placing the action in Chicago, which still suffers from a rash of murders and robberies, was a smart move. Roth also appears to be wearing his politics on his sleeve, particularly as they relate to gun control and home defense. I'm not going to say Death Wish is an overtly political film, but Roth is definitely opening the arsenal for debate. Whether Death Wish benefits from Roth's blood-and-guts excesses is debatable, too, and viewers are treated to cracked necks, smashed heads and obliterated bodies. But for all the in-your-face carnage, this is not a film that leaves much of an impression. You may not return to it again, but Roth's Death Wish remake is worth watching once to see Willis breaking bad.
MGM and Fox provide a strong 2.40:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer for this film. There is plenty of nighttime action in Death Wish, and the transfer handles this expertly, offering inky blacks and strong shadow detail. Action is clear; motion blur is almost nonexistent; and colors never bleed. Fine-object details are abundant, and wide shots are deep and clear. I noticed no issues with digital noise or edge enhancement. Other than some minor softness, this is an excellent image.
The disc only offers a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix, but it is more than competent to handle the bone-breaking action. This surround-heavy mix offers ample LFE support to rock the living room. Bullets whiz around the sound field, and the ambient sounds of Chicago wrap the viewer and pull them into the environment. Dialogue is crisp and clean, and the score sounds deep and realistic. French, Spanish and English 5.1 Dolby Digital mixes are included, as are English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This two-disc set includes the Blu-ray, a DVD and an HD digital copy. The discs are packed into an eco-case that is wrapped in a slipcover. Extras include an enthusiastic Commentary by Director Eli Roth that, while entertaining, glosses over some of the pre-production issues with the film, particularly Joe Carnahan's screenwriting involvement; Deleted Scenes (6:10/HD) with optional commentary by Roth and Producer Roger Birnbaum; Mancow Morning Show Extended Scenes (3:39/HD); Sway in the Morning Extended Scene (2:51/HD); Vengeance and Vision: Directing Death Wish (11:44/HD); a Grindhouse Trailer (2:02/HD), which is the disc's best extra; and the Theatrical Trailer (2:25/HD).
More unnecessary than terrible, this Death Wish remake offers Director Eli Roth's trademark blood and gore, but does little to distinguish itself from a host of other action films. Bruce Willis is back in relatively good from, which is refreshing, but this remake lacks the impact of the gritty original. Rent It.