Saturday, June 16, 2018

The Politics Of: Death Wish (2018)

This is a review of 2018's Bruce Willis vehicle Death Wish--the first part is a straight up review. The second does the politics and has all kinds of spoilers.

Death Wish (2018)

The original Death Wish, starring Charles Bronson, is gritty in a way that films today maybe can't. For one thing, it was contemporary--set on the mean streets of New York which is an iconic city--at a time when, well, they really were mean (and mean to white people--not just in the minority neighborhoods). Secondly, Bronson doesn't have Bruce Willis' charisma--but he is a more believable revenge killer.

Finally, the film itself looks different--and while The Omnivore couldn't tell you the differences without looking them up, the grain of the 1970's non-digital film is probably a subconscious marker to a more, erm, primal time.

In any event, the remake has Eli Roth at the helm--so gore is to be expected. It has Bruce Willis who, while older, is still plenty watchable--and it has revenge shootings and detective work and so on. The Omnivore went in with low expectations and a fast forward button and used it a couple of times--shortly--to blow through the home invasion and a little of the family time.

The Omnivore could go the rest of his life with movies just showing a placard saying "And then his whole family was murdered so now he's on a revenge kick." Seriously. Also, for Spider-Man? Don't ever show uncle Ben dying again. We can live without that too.

However, once we get the set up and the mourning out of the way, we get a reasonably good movie. Roth visited the Chicago police station to see how they looked and worked (one joke: a note on the unsolved case board says "We're Gonna Need  A Bigger Board" came from this). The detective work feels competent. The medical stuff (Willis is a surgeon) feels reasonably tight, and the societal reaction works nicely.

Roth got real radio personalities to do the bits and just gave them descriptions of the situation so they could do all the dialog all themselves. For some of the memes that people make as a response to the killings, Roth went to an Internet meme aggregator and had them help out.

So the texture of the movie feels right. The problem, if there is one, is that, as noted above, the issue that our society has with violence now is either black-on-black crime or hate crimes. The target of the movie generally does not live in fear--even if they they live in Chicago. In the remake, the cops weren't just don't-care-useless--they did care, were pretty much the good guys--and, it's possible--would have caught the dudes (they got a break and it's impossible to say if they would have followed up successfully).

The bleakness of the Bronson film just isn't extant today--and so--Death Wish becomes more of a pretty violent character drama and less social commentary.

Let's do the politics.

The Politics of Death Wish (2018)

The Omnivore expected an extreme 2A movie and, while it fell short of X-TREAM it is, to be honest, pretty 2A. Explicitly in the movie, Willis says he feels responsible because he failed to protect his wife and family (he wasn't home at the time, so being strapped wouldn't help--and the home invaders got the daughter and the wife by surprise--so unless they were panther quick and carrying inside their house while cooking dinner . . .).

On the other hand, the defense-against-home-invasion scenario plays out at the end, when Willis returns from the hospital with his daughter who has woken up from the coma she was in (his wife was killed) and the lead crook--along with some more hired guns--comes back to finish the job (she could, maybe, ID him).

At this point Willis is strapped, knows it's coming (or at least sees someone closing in and knows what it means), and even has the odd surprise in store.

The home invasion scenario is important because it is like the ticking-time-bomb scenario that justifies torture: it is the one situation where the cops can never get there fast enough, your family is at grave risk, and if you don't have a gun, you're pretty fucked. Given the specifics of the home invasion scenario--whatever the reality (the ticking time bomb scenario has never happened) it is hard to argue against personal gun ownership.

Interestingly we did NOT see Chicago's gun laws make it too hard to get a weapon to defend oneself. When Willis entertains a roaring rampage of revenge he goes to a gun shop and is told he'll have to do a background check and a weapons class--but "no one ever fails." It'll take a couple of weeks (or something)--but that's not what stops him.

The idea that the gun will be registered in his name and he is on camera buying it--and he plans to kill a bunch of people with it--is what turns him away. So, of course, a gun literally falls at his feet when a thug is brought in to the ER and they missed the piece. This is an interesting choice on Roth's part: It makes the case for having traceable gun sales nation-wide and having deep background checks.

The criminals are white (one is Latino)--which isn't especially surprising: some of the drug dealers are black--the movie doesn't get racial--which is fine. It also doesn't overly glamorize the Grim Reaper--even though he is just killing criminals. The radio personalities are realistically leery of embracing him although they do give him his props. In the end, after a massive home invasion with assault rifles and multiple hit-men, the cops, realizing full well who has been doing the killing--opt to let him go: after all, he was pretty much right to kill these guys--even though the daughter didn't remember anything, whether or not Willis did anything they were coming back to kill them both no matter what.

So the movie isn't a propaganda piece. It is 2A--but not "ammosexual." That's not bad--and the movie isn't bad if you can skip some of the melodrama. The arguably less political Sicario was more 2A than Death Wish--and maybe that's one of the reasons that Death Wish 2018 came off as a little toothless while the original prefigured Bernie Goetz by 10 years.


  1. If anything this prompted me to look up what 2A's definition was, followed by a "d'oh."

    1. At least you didn't google "Ammosexual!"
      --The Omnivore