Death Wish” series are the sort of films Conservative love. There are people in the world, let’s face it, white and elderly people, who look at the streets and these kids today and the crime rates and think the world is seriously on the brink. So, when you’ve got elderly, white Charles Bronson, a paragon of old-fashion American masculinity, going out and shooting punks dead in cold blood, it speaks to a certain part of the population. It’s a fantasy. If there’s any truth to how Bronson took the script, it was a fantasy for him too.
Which is a little odd, when you consider the source material. The original novel “Death Wish” by Brian Garfield isn’t so much about vigilantism as it is about what it takes to turn a pacifist into a vigilante. It’s about violence rotting away at the culture it inhabits. Paul Benjamen (Kersey in the movie) is a bleeding heart liberal until muggers break into his house, beat his wife to death and rape his daughter into a state of catatonia. We get a lot of pages describing Paul’s peace of mind slowly eroding until he can’t sleep any longer. The book’s more then half way over by the time he finally takes the law into his own hands. By the end of the book, when he’s picking off hopped-up teenagers playing deadly pranks, it’s more then implied that his acts of vigilantism are no less random and unjustifiable then the attacks that started the ball rolling. It’s a book about how violence can only corrupt and destroy.
The movie quickly descends into complete revenge fantasy not long after that. Director Michael Winner and its star weren’t interested in exploring the ambiguity of Kersey’s actions. He’s fully justified and his shoot-outs with crooks are nothing but glamorous. The movie is shot more like a thriller then an action flick. The film makes it clear this is mostly a normal guy and he’s more-then-a-little over his head, even if it is fucking Bronson we’re talking about here. There might be some more stuff going on under the surface here. Early on, we see a Western stunt show. Later on, Kersey quotes cowboy lingo before collapsing from his wounds. Is, maybe, just maybe, the filmmaker making some sort of comment about how impractical the wild west credo is when applied to real life or the modern age? Probably not, but I like to think so.
The original is a classic, in its own way. The opening title presented over the setting sun, while the darkly jazzy tones of Herbie Hancock’s score play overhead, is atmospheric and set the dark tone of the film to follow. The scene of Kersey shooting down a gang of thugs on a stairway is fantastic and I really like the final sequence set in an abandoned construction site. Morally reprehensible, perhaps, but pretty entertaining. It’s the film that broke Bronson out of the western mode he had found himself and turned him into as big of a star as he would ever be. (7/10)
FUTURE STAR AS A RANDOM CREEP:
Jeff Goldblum has his debut role as one of the punks who rapes Bronson’s daughter and murders his wife. I think Jeff got the part just because he looks so much like a sweaty hophead.