I’m not saying El Roth is a heavy-handed director, but I’m guessing each of his hands weigh in excess of 100 pounds each. I’ve done my best to avoid most of Roth’s work, mostly because I honestly believe I could let my shih-Tzu direct a film and it would be better, but unfortunately a major studio has put Roth in charge of the remake of one of the seminal films of the 1970s, DEATH WISH.
Paul Kersey (Willis) is a trauma surgeon, very likable and very skilled. He lives in his beautiful suburban Chicago home with his beautiful wife (Shue) and their seventeen-year old daughter, who has just announced her acceptance to college. Paul is living the perfect life. Paul has a brother, Frank (D’Onofrio), a former felon who has a habit of borrowing money from Paul. One night, while waiting for the valet to return their car, they talk out loud about an event the next night – time and place. One of the valets (Roth makes sure we know he’s a bad guy by continually lingering on him) overhears this. The next night, the event has been cancelled. Paul goes to work, leaving the ladies home alone. Or are they? Soon mom is dead and daughter in a coma. Paul is distraught. How did his life come to this stage and what can he do to avenge his family.
In 1974, director Michael Winner’s original DEATH WISH was a film made for that time. It also made Charles Bronson a star. Bronson’s Kersey was an architect, very quiet, not prone to violence (Roth telegraphs this by having Willis refuse to fight a loud-mouth who challenges him at his daughter’s soccer game). Bronson was a reluctant vigilante’, one who fussed and fumbled with his gun. Willis, on the other hand, is quite the pro after some time at the firing range. While seeking revenge for his family, he comes across some other unsavory people (local drug dealer, etc.) who need to be dispatched by his hand. He’s also not above dropping a few quips. When the drug dealer asks who he is, Paul squints and replies, “your last customer,” before squeezing off a couple of rounds. As the film goes on, Roth’s “style” pushes its way to the front. Michael Bay gives you people walking in slow-motion. John Woo liked doves. Roth loves over-the-top gore – exploding heads and gaping wounds.
It’s not Willis’ fault this movie is terrible. He and the rest of the cast, including Len Cariou, Kimberley Elise and Dean Norris who, with Elise, play the detectives assigned to investigate the string of mysterious “Grim Reaper” (as Kersey is referred to in the news) killings. It’s the script that fails. It is credited to Joe Carnahan, who has written some fine films over the years (NARC, THE GREY, SMOKIN’ ACES) but, during the commentary track, Roth comments on the many changes he made during filming so I’ll blame him for the film’s script problems as well. I should also get a dig in against the film editor. EVERY TIME one of the Kersey’s go into their house, they are met by a security system key pad, yet no one ever sets or disables the system. If they had set it, the movie would have been over in three minutes…and that would have suited me fine.
Video: The film is presented in a 2:40.1 aspect and the transfer is clean. Roth has created his night shots to include a slight blue tint on them but this doesn’t affect the images.
Audio: The disc comes with two different English tracks: Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The sound is well mixed, with the conversation loud and clear and the many gun shots LOUD.
Commentary by Director Eli Roth and Producer Roger Birnbaum: There isn’t a part of this movie that Roth doesn’t like and, if you don’t believe me, wait and he’ll tell you.
Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary by Roth and Birnbaum (6:10): Four short scenes, none of them missed. For the curious, Roth and Birnbaum explain why they were cut.
Mancow Morning Show Extended Scenes (3:40): Erich “Mancow” Muller is a real Chicago disc jockey (via Kansas City) and he is one of the many “local” talking heads discussing the “Grim Reaper” and whether he is a vigilante’ or a hero. This is a longer cut of what appears in the film.
Sway in the Morning Extended Scene (2:51): Like Mancow above, Sway has a local show that appears on Sirius/XM radio.
Vengeance and Vision: Directing “DeathWish:” (11:44): Almost 12 minutes of conversation with Eli Roth, with the occasional pat on the back by Bruce Willis and Roger Birnbaum.
Grindhouse Trailer (2:02): This is actually better than the film. A trailer made in the Robert Rodriquez/Quentin Tarantino “Grindhouse” style – missing frames, over-the-top titles and narration right out of the 1970s.
Theatrical Trailer (2:250) Sadly, the trailer for the movie I just saw.