Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Movie Review: "Death Wish" (1974)

Director: Michael Winner
Year: 1974
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 33 minutes

After a man's wife is murdered and his daughter is raped during a home invasion, he becomes fed up with the crime running rampant in the city and decides to take the law into his own hands. He becomes a vigilante and guns down anyone he sees committing a crime.

Back when "Death Wish" came out in 1974, the murder rate in New York City was about triple what it is today, so we guess we can understand the sentiment that the city was a steaming cesspool of crime. It makes people feel helpless when cops are seemingly useless, and desperate times call for desperate measures. "Death Wish" is directed by Michael Winner with a screenplay by Wendell Mayes and is based on the novel of the same name by Brian Garfield. It stars Charles Bronson as a mild-mannered, open-minded architect named Paul Kersey. While Paul's wife Joanna (Hope Lange) and daughter Carol (Kathleen Tolan) are at home waiting for a grocery delivery one afternoon, a trio of hooligan punks come knocking instead, posing as their delivery boys. They burst into the house looking to rob it. They attack Joanna and rape Carol before running off without a trace. Joanna dies from her wounds and Carol is left in a catatonic state due to her post-traumatic stress. A short time later, Paul receives a gun as a gift from a business partner. On the way home, a mugger attempts to rob him but is shot by Paul instead. From then on, Paul becomes a vigilante, targeting criminal lowlifes all around the city.

"Death Wish" kicked off a long-running franchise of increasingly ridiculous sequels in addition to serving as a spiritual precursor to other vigilante films like "Taxi Driver," which would come out a few years later. As we mentioned, crime and murder rates were on the rise in the 70's as the economy was collapsing. The country was still dealing with the fallout of the Vietnam war and the embarrassment of Watergate. Such factors lent themselves to the perfect social climate where an audience might gravitate towards a film like this. Charles Bronson is the perfect choice to play a character like Paul, though considering how many times he played hardened killer types, we know the mild-mannered Paul isn't going to stay mild-mannered for long. The film deals with vigilantism and has the audience rooting for Paul to get away with what he is doing, all while the police are trying to find their killer. This film can definitely be seen as glorifying vigilantism, just like its aforementioned successor "Taxi Driver." In many ways, movies like this are like public service films put out by the NRA. Still, this is a work of fiction. "Death Wish" is fairly entertaining and stays pretty grounded when it comes to its action. It's not completely over the top or unbelievable. This movie also manages to accurately capture the griminess of 1970's New York before the crime rate dropped and before Time Square was commercialized and cleaned up.

While "Death Wish" is definitely a product of its time, we still found a lot of enjoyment in this crime drama. Damn, Charles Bronson was the man.

My Rating: 7/10
BigJ's Rating: 7/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 68%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

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