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Movie Review

Bad things happen.

We all know this. We've all felt this. In ways big and small, we've suffered under fate's whip hand, enduring pain we didn't earn and have no way to counter. We say, sometimes scream, "This isn't fair! This isn't right!" And no matter how strong we are or how much faith we have, the silence that responds can be cruel and deafening.

Some have more reason to scream than others.

Paul Kersey did everything by the books. He worked hard and studied hard and became a surgeon, saving other people's lives on a nightly basis. He paid his taxes, never parked in handicapped spots, loved his wife and his daughter oh so very much.

And then one night, while he's away at work, disaster strikes: Three people break into his house in what becomes a robbery gone wrong: When it's all over, Paul's wife, Lucy, is dead. His college-age daughter, Jordan, is in a coma. And the culprits get away.

A grieving Paul places his trust in the police … at first. But as the days turn into weeks without leads, Paul's grief and anger begin to eat at him. He spends sleepless nights watching television—hearing over and over about the incredible wave of crime and violence rocking his hometown of Chicago. His wife and daughter haunt him. Paul feels as though he failed them.

Then one day at work, something unexpectedly clatters to the operating-room floor: a Glock handgun from one of his patients, black and bold and—most importantly—unnoticed by anyone else. Paul hides the pistol quickly, then takes it home and begins to … practice.

And after he's poured enough lead into his makeshift targets, when he feels like he knows his new weapon inside and out, Paul puts on a hoodie and dives into Chicago's dark, damp streets.

Bad things happen, all right. Paul knows all about that. But he feels it's high time that bad things happen to bad people. And so a doctor who's spent his career saving lives now vows to end a few.

Positive Elements

Listen, we obviously can't get behind Paul's bloody actions in this grotesque revenge fantasy. That said, we can understand the impulse behind them. Death Wish returns again and again not only to Paul's anger and anguish over what happened to his wife and daughter, but his guilt about his sense of responsibility. "It's hard to escape the feeling that I failed," he tells his counselor. As a husband and a father, he was supposed to be the family's protector. There's truth in that ideal, despite the disturbing ways that truth is eventually manifested here.

We don't just see Paul as the killer he becomes. We see him as the caring husband, father and doctor that he is. He helps his oft-unemployed brother, Frank, keep his head above water, too. And when his daughter's in a coma, Paul reads to her a lot—including C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. (So, props for his good taste in literature.)

But perhaps the movie's most moral figure (and yes, admittedly the bar is pretty low here) might just be Frank. He understands Paul's rage. He even tries to protect Paul from its natural consequences. But Frank also insists that it's wrong to give full-throated voice to that rage by way of killing others. It has to stop, Frank says.

[Spoiler Warning] And in the end, Paul seems to agree with Frank—or, at least, agrees to put down his gun. (Unless, of course, there's a market for Death Wish 2.)

Spiritual Content

At Lucy's funeral, her father recounts a conversation he had with Lucy after her mother died. "Why did she have to die?" Lucy asked her dad. "It's all part of God's plan," her father responded. "We have to trust His plan." But as he buries his own daughter, Lucy's father isn't so sure anymore: "How is this part of His plan?" He asks those in attendance. "How is this part of any plan?"

We hear a reference to Paul being someone's "guardian angel."

Sexual Content

When three would-be robbers (and soon-to-be killers) break into the Kersey home, two of them initially guard Jordan. But when one goes to the garage to find some rope, the other obviously contemplates rape—running his fingers and gun barrel up the inside of Jordan's denim-covered thigh. When the other crook returns, Jordan's assailant asks for just 10 minutes with her. Or even two. (He doesn't get it.)

A woman gets accosted in the street by a couple of lewd ruffians. When Paul unexpectedly has to leave for work one evening before the break-in, he asks Lucy to try to stay awake, insinuating that he'd like a bit of intimate time with her afterwards. A couple kisses in a nightclub, where we also see some revealing outfits. Some clothed pinup girls decorate a wall or two, and a bikini-clad model graces a late-night television ad. A woman reveals a whole lotta backside in an unseemly televised bowling match.

Violent Content

The initial assault on the Kersey family begins quietly: The crooks break in and hold guns to Lucy and Jordan's heads. The apparent leader initially promises to leave them unharmed if they open the family safe and give the thieves money, jewelry and whatnot.

But as things grow more chaotic, Jordan grabs a knife and slashes her assailant's face, while Lucy throws a pot of near-boiling water on him. The camera then leaves the house and we hear two gunshots. Later, we learn that Lucy suffered a fatal bullet wound to her torso (we see her corpse and its blood-stained covering in the morgue), while Jordan received a gunshot to the head (which leaves her in a coma and with a severely bruised face).

As horrific as that opening tragedy is, it's remarkably restrained compared to what comes after. When Paul picks up his newfound Glock and turns into a vigilante figure dubbed the Grim Reaper by the news, things get very messy indeed.

Take, for instance, this scene: Paul cracks one man (who works as a mechanic) in the crotch with a huge wrench. When the man awakens, he's tied up, and Paul slits open the back of his leg to expose the sciatic nerve, which the surgeon says is the most sensitive nerve in the body. (We see the knife slice into the man's flesh.) He then pours brake fluid, a caustic agent, in the wound, which Paul learned in medical school was perhaps the most painful thing that could be done to a human body without causing someone to go into cardiac arrest. Then, after learning what his victim has to tell him, Paul sends a car crashing on top of the man, grotesquely squishing him like a gigantic bug. (We see it all.)

He's far from the only victim to be dispatched in such a visceral way. Several people are shot in the head, blood and brain matter spattering over walls and floors. One man falls off a staircase and dies via an obviously broken neck and smashed head. Others get gunned down via seemingly dozens of gunshots to the chest. One man burbles his last in an SUV, as blood flows from wounds in his neck.

And Paul has no problem killing in cold blood, either. He walks up to one of his victims—who's already been shot twice and who is lying helplessly in the street—points a gun to his chest and pulls the trigger.

Non-lethal wounds aren't much easier to look at. Paul suffers a bullet wound to the shoulder that looks more like a velociraptor chewed on him for a while. He tries to patch himself up with Super Glue and, most painfully, a staple gun. He gets an ouchie on his left hand, too—a raw, gaping hole that looks worse as the movie progresses. Someone gets beaned in the head with a bowling ball. At a shootout in a nightclub, both perps and at least one innocent bystander get hurt.

Someone gets stabbed in the hand with a dart. Paul sticks a drug-filled syringe into someone. One of Paul's nocturnal vigilante escapades is replayed repeatedly on social media. We see footage of a Grim Reaper copycat getting killed by his would-be victim. Paul gets kicked and beaten badly by a couple of bad guys. He admits he used to physically fight his abusive father: He lost, he admits, every single time. We see several bloody medical procedures and bullet wounds.

Lucy's father runs some poachers off his land with a rifle, then bends over a still-living, twitching deer whose innards are fully exposed. "If a man really wants to protect what's his, he has to do it himself," he says before pulling the trigger and putting the animal out of its misery.

Crude or Profane Language

Nearly 50 f-words—with one accompanied by an obscene gesture—and more than 20 s-words. God's name is misused four times (once with "d--n"), and Jesus' name is abused seven times. Other profanities include "h---," "p---y" and "p-ssed."

Drug and Alcohol Content

Paul guns down a drug dealer. (The man apparently recruited neighborhood kids to do his work, and if they refused, he'd shoot them.) During the deepest parts of Paul's grief, we see him drinking a beer by the family pool, several other empty bottles lying nearby. We also see him with a glass of brandy. He and others drink wine and beer during more celebratory moments.

A critical scene takes place at a bar. We see lots of liquor there, as we do at a nightclub. Paul pilfers drugs from the hospital, both to torture someone and to patch himself up.

Other Negative Elements

I think we've covered most of this section in one way or another, but to reiterate: Bad guys do bad things, like lie and steal. The movie's "good guy" does lots of bad things, too, like lying and stealing.

Conclusion

In the movie's opening scene, a critically wounded police officer is wheeled into Paul's hospital, and Paul can't save him. Then he gets a call to help another gunshot victim—this time, the police officer's killer.

The deceased officer's partner is furious: "Now you're going to save the animal who shot him?"

"If I can," Paul says.

This is Paul's ethical high-water mark in the film. To save someone who doesn't deserve it … well, that's honorable, and it's exactly what Jesus did for us. And Scripture repeatedly instructs us we're to follow His example.

The audience I watched Death Wish with would beg to differ. The theater was filled with laughter and applause each time Paul uncorked his vigilante vengeance. The more bloody the deadly dispatch, the louder the laughs and cheers. It makes sense, in a way. Movies like Death Wish appeal to a primal desire for justice: No law, no mercy, just a man's private pain supposedly being salved through the pain¬—and death—of someone we believe has it coming to him. It's an angry movie for an angry time. It suggests that true peace of mind can only come when one's enemies are resting in pieces.

Most of us probably feel that way sometimes. It's very human. But that doesn't make it right.

It's possible that director Eli Roth, most famous for his torture-porn Hostel horror flicks, was trying to dig at something deeper or more purposeful here. At times, Death Wish feels like it winks at us a bit, like Paul Verhoeven's Robocop and Starship Troopers once did. Perhaps it occasionally satirizes its bloody conceit even as it glories in it.

But if so the audience I was with mostly missed it. Based on the 1974 movie starring Charles Bronson, this remake is an unalloyed revenge fantasy that showers in blood and bathes in body parts. Death Wish suggests that society's most troubling issues can best be addressed by the blazing barrel of a vigilante's gun.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Bruce Willis as Paul Kersey; Vincent D'Onofrio as Frank Kersey; Elisabeth Shue as Lucy Kersey; Camila Morrone as Jordan Kersey; Dean Norris as Detective Kevin Raines; Beau Knapp as Knox; Kimberly Elise as Detective Leonore Jackson

Director

Eli Roth ( )

Distributor

MGM

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

March 2, 2018

On Video

June 5, 2018

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Paul Asay

Content Caution

Kids
Teens
Adults
We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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