johnlink ranks DEATH WISH (1974)

In retrospect, it probably was not a good idea to watch a movie entitled DEATH WISH hours before the Patriots Super Bowl. I may have single-handedly cost them the game by doing so. Alas, my 17 month old son now still has to live in a world where the Patriots have yet to win a Super Bowl in his lifetime. Sigh. I guess it’s time to talk about the movie…

I watched DEATH WISH (1974) on 2.5.12. It was my second viewing of the film.

I forgot that this really is a good little film. The series, of course, devolved as four additional movies were made (Bronson’s Paul Kersey must have been in his 70s when the 1994 installment came out). But this first one is really solid.

Much of the intelligence comes in the way the film is very self-aware. At one point the viewer thinks ‘Wow, The Vigilante kills a lot of black people in this’, and then the movie, through an auxiliary character at a party, comments on this, engaging in the socio-economic status of African Americans in NYC at the time, and bringing up the question of why there were more black muggers than white muggers. At another point the film deals with how the police, the mayor, the city in general, deal with a man acting illegally to get results. It’s not an easy question, and the script doesn’t try to pit the ‘good’ Bronson method versus the ‘bad’ police method. There are plenty of grey areas here.

So, the story is that Kersey’s wife is murdered and his daughter is sexually assaulted. He goes from being an anti-gun Conscientious Objector to being the gun-blazing Vigilante. The film doesn’t run away from conservative gun values versus liberal bleeding heartedness. On the contrary it allows several conversations of the debate to occur organically. DEATH WISH doesn’t try to solve them, except to say that if liberalism is a road to passiveness (which I don’t think it necessarily is), then the more conservative ‘pioneer’ mentality is what we need to make anything happen in the world.

This film does feel like it is just pouring out frustrations onto the screen, allowing the collective id of our society to live out its heroic dreams through Paul Kersey. The film never ventures into an area wherein Kersey makes the wrong decision, or where a copycat kills an innocent person. The film doesn’t want to have that discussion, though I do not blame it for not going there. Instead, it wants to allow a cathartic shot to the head of  ‘Crime’.

There is some nice imagery in this film as well. The shadow of a chandelier looks like a trident on the wall as Kersey is beginning to turn war-like. Later a noose (perhaps heavy-handedly) frames a shot as Kersey spends time watching a wild wild west reenactment.

I think the moments I like best in this film are the two after Kersey does something normally out of character. After he first repels an attacker by beating him with a sock filled with quarters, he returns home, shaking, and unleashes his aggression on the furniture. It feels real. Then, after he first kills a mugger, he goes home and vomits. As he becomes more comfortable with the killings, we lose these moments (understandably), but the inclusion of them serves to humanize our hero. These are not light decisions he is making.

Also, I love, love, love that he never gets his family’s attackers. It would feel way to Hollywood to allow that to happen. Instead, his revenge comes through all the like-minded people he is preventing from ruining other families.

This film is a little 70s slow, but not as much as some. I wouldn’t call it exciting, or pulse-pounding. Instead it is a measured and intelligent look at heroism, vigilantism, and what happens when you piss off Charlie Bronson.





~ by johnlink00 on February 6, 2012.

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