Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Death Wish and Death Wish 2

Title: Death Wish (1974) and Death Wish 2 (1982)

Director: Michael Winner

Cast: Charles Bronson, Hope Lange, Vincent Gardenia, Jeff Goldblum, Laurence Fishburne


One thing popped into my mind while watching Charles Bronson mercilessly kicking crimes ass in Death Wish: “they just don’t make them like this anymore”. And that is true, stone cold classics like this aren’t made in these extremely PC, PG-13 days. Bad ass mother truckers like Charles Bronson aren’t born anymore either. I mean, Jason Statham might try to be as ice cold deadly as Bronson by remaking Bronson’s The Mechanic (1972) (which I will be reviewing soon) but he is a few bald spots short of portraying that hard ass/mean bastard persona that Bronson displayed so naturally. One icy cold stare from Bronson and you knew you were going to meet your maker. One look at a film like Death Wish and its obvious that action films have been as watered down same way that  horror films have. Sad but true, action/horror films just don’t have the gravitas they used to. At least we still have these grimy revenge flicks on dvd to remind us of a bygone era in Hollywood filmmaking, a time when filmmakers didn’t even take in consideration having their character do the right thing. Or the best thing, he simply did what had to be done.

Paul Kersey the architect, but his real passion is vigilantism. 

 Story for Death Wish concerns an architect called Paul Kersey (Bronson). Paul lives a great life with his wife and daughter. Film starts out with Paul and his wife on vacation in Hawaii, taking in the sunsets, enjoying a dinner by candlelight, basically, having a grand old time with his beautiful wife. But crime never sleeps, and so, one night, while Paul is still working in the office, a band of hoodlums that seem to have come straight out of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971) burst into his home and savagely attack his wife and daughter, effectively killing Paul’s wife. By the way, keep an eye open for a very young Jeff Goldblum who plays one of the rapists! This was Goldblum’s debut film. So anyways, the authorities promise to perform an investigation, but that’s as far as it goes. Paul knows the cops aren’t going to get anything really done in a city as big as New York, so he does what any revenge hungry ex-husband would do under the same circumstances; he goes out and starts looking for those responsible. And those of their ilk. Which means, if you’re a criminal, you were going to get your lesson coming from Bronson’s gun. Paul turns vigilante and starts whacking out any bastard who even looks at him funny. Bronson is tired of getting kicked around by thugs and living in fear, he takes matters into his own hands and turns into a stone cold vigilante! Are the streets ready for Paul Kemp’s vengeful anger?

 Death Wish took me back to those days when there were no video cameras in every square of inch of the city. This was a time when if you were waiting for the train at 2 a.m. and a group of thugs came into the subway, kicked you in the nuts, stole your wallet and took off running, no one would know it happened but you. The thug who did it would end up happily counting your hard earned cash in some dark corner of the city. I lived in New York City during the early 80’s, and I can attest to that feeling of insecurity you got while walking the streets at night. Deathwish captures that feeling perfectly. I know what it was like to take the train and suddenly become frozen with fear when a good for nothing troublemaker walked into the train cabin, with mischief on his mind; with evil in his eyes. Films like Deathwish were a response to that out of control wave of violence that took over the streets of New York City circa 1970’s. You’d walk with fear of getting mugged, or raped or possibly even killed, all for the contents of your wallet.

Gun behind the newspaper, oldest trick in the book!

 But this is a film that looks at those criminals straight in the eyes and says “Screw you bastards! You’re all going down!” It has that “I’m not taking this shit anymore” vibe going for it. It’s a film with the mentality of someone who has decided to take matters into his own hands. Since there are no video cameras taping your every move, Paul Kersey can whip out his gun, blow away any criminal that attempts a vile act and simply walk away from the scene as if nothing had ever happened. Paul Kersey vengeful acts are fueled by what was done to his wife and daughter, but its crime in general who pays. He doesn’t just focus his vigilantism towards the ones who hurt his family; Paul Kersey goes out into the streets to declare war on all manner of thugs. Kersey goes from one scumbag to the next, blowing them away as best as his gun can, cleaning up the city for good. Doing what the police haven’t got the man power to do. In a way, Kersey ends up being a hero.

 I saw Death Wish and Death Wish 2 (1982) over the weekend; while watching the second one, I couldn’t help feeling like I was watching the first one all over again. Yes my friends, Death Wish 2 is basically the exact same movie, with the exact same plot. It picks up where the first one left off; with Kersey trying to help his daughter lead a normal life again after the events of the first film. He’s got himself a new girlfriend and a new job in Los Angeles. Slowly but surely, happiness seems to be creeping back into his life. But, crime doesn’t rest, and so hoodlums break into his household once again. They rape his housemaid, and kidnap and rape his daughter. And so the cycle of revenge fueled vigilantism continues. The sequel focuses more on Kersey seeking revenge from the actual perpetrators of the crimes, as opposed to crime in general as seen on the first film.  But he still manages to save a citizen or two from a criminal attack; it is in these scenes that he is portrayed as a hero, or a “very good citizen” for doing what he does. While Kersey is out there stopping crime, the film asks the police force: “Where the hell where you guys?”

 In spite of Death Wish 2’s repetitiveness in storyline, it still manages to have its moments and some very memorable lines. One scene has Kersey following a group of criminals into an abandoned hotel. Upon coming face to face with one of the men who raped his daughter, Kersey notices that the perpetrator is wearing a crucifix on his neck. He asks the low life: “Do you believe in Jesus?” and the guy says “Yes” then Kersey tells him: “Well, you’re going to meet him!” and then BLAMO! Blows the guy away! No mercy for the wicked. Death Wish 1 and 2 were films of their time, they represented a frustration with the violence on the streets, and a desire for citizens to take matters into their own hands and protect themselves from the evil out there on the streets. Some studios backed away from producing these films because they considered them too controversial. They didn’t want to spread the idea of vigilantism amongst the populace and because they thought that a film with the word “Death” on its title wouldn’t sell tickets. Boy where they wrong! This franchise lasted all the way up to Death Wish 5: The Face of Death (1994), where Kersey still kicked ass even though Bronson was something like 72 years old when he made that film; evidence that Charles Bronson’s hard ass genes  allow him to kick ass longer than any normal man would.

Rating Death Wish (1974): 4  
Rating Death Wish 2 (1985): 3 1/2


Kev D. said...

My college roommates and I watched so much Charles Bronson that we wrote a song about him called BRONSONG.

If you get to the movie where he says "I HATE QUICHE" let me know, it's been bugging me for a while.

Anonymous said...

Charles Bronson, arguably the most rampantly heterosexual man who has ever lived.

Manuel Marrero said...

Bronson = Kickass, nuff said.

Franco Macabro said...

@Kev D.: Im on a Charles Bronson kick right now myself, up next for me: The original The Mechanic!

@Anonymous: He is a "macho-macho man" that's for sure.

@Manuel: Bronson's, the Grandaddy of ass kickers! He showed all others who followed how it is done.

Thanks for your comments everyone!

JimboJones said...

Dude - good write up!

And Kev D - that was "Ten To Midnight", when he's visiting his daughter at college and picking up random food from the cafeteria (not paying attention). He goes to pay for his food, looks at it and says "what's this?"
"I hate quiche!"
"Then why did you pick it up?"
"I thought it was pie."

Franco Macabro said...

@Jimbojones: Thanks for the kind words Jimbo, I'll be seeing some more Bronson soon!

Thanks for clearing up Kev D's "Quiche" question.


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