Action Movie Fanatix Review: Death Wish

Death Wish banner

Vigilante, City Style – Judge, Jury, and Executioner

Starring: Charles Bronson, Hope Lange, Vincent Gardenia, William Redfield, Steven Keats, Stuart Margolin, Stephen Elliott, Jeff Goldblum, Denzel Washington

Director: Michael Winner

1974  |  93 Minutes  |  Rated R

“If the police don’t defend us, maybe we’d ought to do it ourselves.” – Paul Kersey

Death Wish is Charles Bronson’s big franchise.  He has plenty of other great movies but it is probably these movies that people most associate with him and it’s about time I got around to reviewing some of them.

After his wife is murdered and his daughter is raped, New York City architect Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) seeks vengeance against not only the culprits of the horrible crimes but all other wrongdoers as well.

The beginning of the movie paints Paul Kersey as a bleeding heart liberal – almost verbatim.  He feels for the less advantaged who are “forced” into a life of crime to get by.  The murder/rape forces a major change in Kersey’s morals.  He starts drinking more.  He punches a would be thief.  And, during a trip to Arizona, he picks up a gun for the first time in years.  And as it turns out, he’s a great shot.

It is at this point where Paul Kersey finally starts to fight back.  It takes forty minutes to get here but the build is worth it.  The original Death Wish is never as action packed as its sequels but the violence is a lot more meaningful.  And if there is anything I learned from Death Wish it is that violence is the answer.

The police in Death Wish are shown to be more interested in catching The Vigilante, as they call him, more so than they are interested in catching the muggers that are the real problem in this city.

It is this contrast between the police force not adequately doing their job and Paul Kersey clearly going way overboard in his quest for justice and vengeance that provides a very interesting dynamic for the first Death Wish film.  In this way the Death Wish series is actually quite similar to the First Blood/Rambo series of films.  Both series start with a movie that have a much more developed story and heart before the sequels evolves (some might say devolves) into pure action movies.  Without seeing the first movies in these series a person can still very much enjoy the pure action goodness that follows but may not fully understand or appreciate the characters within.

Death Wish is not without its faults, however.  The music feels really goofy in parts.  I don’t know if it is just the fact that it is 40 years old or if it was just as goofy back then but it just doesn’t seem to fit at certain points.

There is also the odd and sometimes confusing way that Paul Kersey’s son in law refers to his father in law as simply Dad.  Maybe this was more common in the 70s or even before but it just seems odd now.  That might seem like a silly complaint but it is another aspect that dates the movie.

The last complaint I have is again rather minor but it detracts from the attempted realism. The problem I am referring to is the color of the blood.  It is bright neon red.

Death Wish is an enjoyable movie but not in the same way as its sequels.  The sequels are fun shoot ‘em up stuff but the original Death Wish is a little deeper and a little darker.  It is a definite classic of the genre though and is a must see for any action fan.

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