In 2016, horror-director Eli Roth released a trailer for what was to be his newest directorial endeavor, a remake of the 1970s cult classic—a remake that was actually warranted: Death Wish.
The new take on the story of an urban every-man who is driven to deadly vigilantism after his wife and daughter are brutally attacked by street thugs stars action veteran Bruce Willis in the main role of Paul Kersey.
You may have seen the movie recently pop up on one of your on-demand video menus and thought, “I guess it never made it into theaters.” And then you skip right by it.
Well, the movie was supposed to hit theaters in the Fall of 2017 with a wide release—instead, because of a number of high profile shootings, the release was bumped to a March 2, 2018 and it was given almost zero promotion.But skipping past this one would be a mistake, especially if you’re an action fan.
The story from 1974 has been updated, the setting moved from New York City to the streets of Chicago, and the profession of Paul Kersey changed from architect to surgeon. The new Kersey is a somewhat subdued man who has a wife and college-bound daughter, he pays his taxes, follows the law, and does what he’s supposed to.
Due to a change in plans, he is called to the hospital where he works and his wife and daughter return home sooner than expected, interrupting three men robbing their house.
When the smoke clears, Kersey’s wife is dead and his daughter has been shot and is in a coma.
Interestingly enough, especially considering the man behind the camera, the attack on his family is less intense than it was in the original, which included a vicious rape scene.
Kersey repeatedly calls the detective working his wife’s case, getting increasingly frustrated with their inaction and seeming inability to do anything about not just the crime committed against his family, but the crime he sees in his city every day.
By chance, he comes into possession of a handgun, dropped by a wounded man in his hospital, and then his story takes a violent turn as he morphs into a vigilante, meeting out justice as he sees fit.
Before we get to the new Death Wish, lets take a look at Bronson’s original film:
Death Wish (1974)
Colt Police Positive
In the original Death Wish, Paul Kersey’s decision to become a vigilante is a gradual one. His wife and daughter are attacked and raped by gang members during a home invasion while Kersey is at work. His wife is killed in the attack and his daughter is left traumatized to the point where she needs to be institutionalized after her physical wounds have healed.
After the attack, Kersey throws himself into his work and travels to Texas to for an archetectural project. Before he returns home to New York City, he is given a present by his client, Ames Jainchil (Stuart Margolin): a nickel-plated Colt Police Positive revolver in .32 caliber with a 4-inch barrel. Jainchill presents him with the gun after Kersey demonstrated a natural ability with a pistol at the shooting range, where the two fired some classic revolvers like a Colt Single Action Army and an 1842 Percussion Revolver.
Kersey ponders the handgun for a long while, not even unwrapping it and discovering what the gift is until he’s unpacking at home. (Oh to fly in the early 1970s.) He then tucks the gun away in a closet. The .32 was an all-around average gun to give Kersey—once a common sidearm and caliber among law enforcement, it had since been overpowered by similar revolvers chambered for .38 Special and .357 Magnum.
It’s small enough to conceal easily in a coat pocket, which he often does, and light on recoil so someone not accustomed to shooting can easily handle it.
On Kersey’s first night out on the streets as a vigilante, he doesn’t even carry a gun. Instead, he arms himself with a sock full of quarters. He literally uses one of his black dress socks, and while the makeshift weapon works on the mugger he attacks, it’s a close call and the sock breaks with the force of one of Kersey’s blows.
After that, Kersey is done messing around and is rarely without his Colt revolver. He hits the streets, sometimes happening upon crimes and taking out the aggressors, other times offering himself up as bait to lure in the street criminals like the ones who destroyed his family.
He even takes on one of the most dangerous places in America at the time, the New York City subway, and kills a couple muggers in a train car.
Of course, this gets the attention of the NYPD and the newspapers as well, while the city itself is divided on whether Kersey is a hero or a criminal worse than the ones he purports to fight.
Eventually, the police catch up to him, but by then he’s become such a celebrity, even though he’s still publicly anonymous, that the detective on his trail—who kind of admires Kersey in the end—lets him go on the promise that Kersey will never return to New York to continue his vigilantism.
Death Wish (2018)
Glock 17 Gen 4
The story follows the original pretty closely, with Kersey’s wife, Lucy (Elizabeth Shue) and daughter Jordan (Camila Morrone) falling prey to a gang of robbers who shoot them.
While Jordan lays in a coma (in the original, Kersey’s daughter had to be committed due to the trauma of the attack), Paul takes Lucy’s body back to her home town in Texas to be buried.
There he gets a lesson from Lucy’s father and his lever-action rifle when he tells Paul that the police only show up after a crime has occurred, and it’s up to everyone to defend themselves.
Just like the original, Paul doesn’t use an arsenal, but instead sticks to a single firearm.
When he goes to a gun shop, he’s told that it’s a fairly laborious process to obtain a FOID and purchase a firearm, but he begins it anyway (which we find out later).
In the meantime, when a man is brought into Kersey’s hospital with gunshot wounds, a Gen 4 Glock 17 9mm handgun falls from his waistband. Nobody but Kersey sees it, so he pushes it under the bed with his foot and tucks it into his scrubs after the room is empty.
Like the .32 revolver Bronson carried in the original, the Glock 17 is similar choice for the modern age in that it’s a common gun that is very user friendly and easy to use, with common ammunition that doesn’t kick very hard.
Kersey watches videos online that teach him out to disassemble and clean his new handgun and goes to an empty warehouse to practice shooting on an old traffic sign. In a movie rarity, he actually wears eyes and ears while practicing.
Though he seems to practice quite a bit, he has a little difficulty the first time he decides to use his handgun for some vigilante justice when taking on a pair of carjackers.
When firing from a seated position with one hand, he grips the pistol improperly and gets a severe slide bite from the G17, causing him to drop the gun.
It works out OK anyway, but the cops see the injury occur on the video taken of the incident, and are on the lookout for someone with a matching wound.
Kersey wears hoodies that he pulls from clothing bins at the hospital and then discards. The hoods hide his identity enough and, due to his look and the title on the video of his escapades, he is dubbed the Grim Reaper.
Appropriately, Kersey’s actions become a social media sensation in the violence-ravaged Chicago, and there are a number of residents who are firmly on his side, and some who aren’t.
In another scene, Kersey talks to a young shooting victim in his hospital who tells him that a drug dealer, who goes by “The Ice Cream Man,” doesn’t let any kids walk to school safely if they don’t work for him.
We see Kersey approach the drug dealer in question, surrounded by a few men on the street near his ice cream cart. The Ice Cream Man pulls a gold-plated M1911A1 from his waistband and hides it behind his leg as he asks Kersey who he is.
Kersey replies, “Your last customer,” before drawing his Glock and firing a quick series of shots one handed into the dealers chest before he even has a chance to raise his gold gun.
He calmly walks away as the people on the street loot the ice cream cart, which is full of drugs and money.
This is where the remake and the original begin to diverge quite a bit.
In the 1974 version, which was innovative and shocking for the time (but painfully slow paced, poorly lit, and poorly acted by today’s standards) Kersey strikes an odd tone of menace, and he has no actual target for his vengeful rage, taking it out on the hoods he meets in alleys and on the subway.
The chances that he could track down the men who randomly assaulted his family were extremely small.
The chances are equally as small for the 2018 version of Kersey, but a bit of freak luck puts the criminals squarely in his crosshairs this time.
HEAVEY SPOILERS AHEAD
Kersey begins working on a badly shot up man in the ER, when he notices a familiar tattoo on his arm. He’s the valet from the beginning who took a photo of Kersey’s address from he nav in his car.
Then Paul spots something else: on the man’s wrist is his watch—one that was stolen from his house on that fateful night.
When the man with the MJ tattoo dies on the table, Kersey takes his phone, unlocking it with the dead man’s thumbprint, and he takes his watch back.
He uses information on the phone and finds his way to an illegal fence operation, where he takes out two more bad guys and gets a lead on another of the robbers—the one with the slash from Jordan on his face.
Kersey confronts him at his auto shop and dispatches him after a serious interrogation—but he doesn’t use a gun in this scene, which shows Eli Roth’s horror roots.
After a messy confrontation with the final robber in a nightclub bathroom that leaves both men wounded, Jordan finally awakens from her coma.
Kersey takes her home, but also visits the gun shop from the beginning, presumably having completed the necessary forms and gun safety class.
He buys a handgun and a short-barreled AR-platform rifle (we’ll ignore the fact that he didn’t have to wait for his SBR NFA tax stamp) which we see later.
Knowing the last robber would come to finish him and his daughter off, Kersey is ready. He kills the two new bad guys that come with him, using the first man’s CZ Scorpion Evo 3 A1 and his new handgun—which is never seen well, but looks to be a stainless Beretta 92FS—to take out the second.
In the final face off, he uses a custom coffee table with a hidden rifle compartment to overcome the remaining robber who killed his wife.
The AR is a highly customized BRD-15-3G with a short barrel and an equally short Keymod hand guard. It has a buffer tube with no stock and appears to be fitted with a 30-round PMag magazine and a Trijicon reflex sight.
Surprisingly, the AR he uses fires in full auto—meaning it’s something he certainly did not buy from the gun shop, or he modified it afterward. He faces no charges from the incident, making it seem like he owned a full-auto AR legally, which is pretty much impossible.
Kersey is wounded in the shoulder during the exchange, but he’s makes it through and Jordan is safe.
When confronted by the Det. Raines (Dean Norris), who has been chasing him, both men know the truth about Kersey’s vigilantism.
He tells Raines that he had a Glock, but that he got rid of it for good, meaning he was done with vigilante justice now that he daughter was safe. Raines tells him to stick to saving lives.
The movie ends with Kersey moving his daughter into her dorm in New York City, telling her he’ll only be three stops away, meaning he has also made the move.
He sees a man walk by a hotel luggage cart on the sidewalk and snag a bag as he does. He yells for the man to stop, and when he does, he replicates the final scene of the original, flashing him a finger pistol and a wink…hinting that Paul might just bring his vigilante justice to the Big Apple.
While the new Death Wish doesn’t get too high-brow about whether or not Kersey’s actions are justified, it presents both sides of the argument and allows the viewer to decide, but the movie firmly comes down on the side of self defense and home defense in an age when such ideas are hardly ever depicted in movies or on TV in a positive way.
You can watch the new Death Wish now via various video OD services and you can buy it on Blu Ray and DVD.