The first installment of the Death Wish series is probably the most important, as it explains how and why Paul Kersey became the Vigilante. The film opens with the violent rape of his wife and daughter. His daughter, the only survivor is left in a psychologically induced coma. Meanwhile A land developer friend of his gives him a gun as a gift and sign of friendship for closing a deal on a architecture design for a new development on the west coast. At first Paul keeps taking the gun out and staring at it not sure what to do with it. But a deep feeling in his gut keeps haunting him until he knows at last what he must do. This is when We get to see Paul Kersy take his first life in an act of pure frustration against the violent criminals that roam the streets of his city.
We get to see the human side of Paul Kersey more deeply in this first death wish film, and the impact his first killing has on him. Upon his first killing Paul vomits as it sinks in what he has just done. His hands shake and he is in a cold sweat, his guts in a knot.
Paul soon realizes that the only way to stop the sick feeling from his first killing is to keep killing more violent criminals, and that is exactly what he does. After each killing Paul becomes more relaxed with his new life as a Vigilante and becomes more confident towards continuing the killings. One by one Paul Kersey takes out his gun and rids the world of the scum bags that hold his city in fear. But it is Paul who ends up being feared by the criminals of the streets.
They know he is out there, they know he is looking for them. Every crime they do could be their last as the Vigilante is coming for them.
on January 31, 2004
Although Charles Bronson has appeared in a fistful of genuine classic movies (The Great Escape, The Magnificent Seven, Once Upon A Time in the West, and The Dirty Dozen) it is this urban crime/revenge thriller that is most often associated with him. Paul Kersey is a New York based 'bleeding heart liberal' architect that has his life destroyed when a trio of thugs (one played by future star Jeff Goldblum) assault his wife and daughter. His wife dies and his daughter slowly sinks into a catatonic state. Kersey's rage grows and, after acquiring a pistol during a business trip to Arizona, he begins killing muggers while wading through the crime choked streets of New York. Director Michael Winner handles the material in as blunt a fashion as possible, presenting Kersey as a heroic Everyman doing what anyone would want to do under similar circumstances. Yet it is all salvaged by a wonderfully nuanced performance by Charles Bronson. At the time of its release, critics complained that the blue collar looking actor was terribly miscast as an upper class white collar victim turned victimizer. Yet the actor handles it well, by the film's end he has become the character and was thus permanantly type cast in the public's mind as the vigilante that cleaned up New York (although he would not play the actual role again until a series of lurid sequels made almost ten years later). While Death Wish is an essential for Charles Bronson fans (I cannot think of one who wouldn't want to have a copy), the actual subject matter was better handled in the Clint Eastwood thriller Dirty Harry (1971) and its 1973 vigilante themed sequel, Magnum Force.
on February 19, 2004
I love seeing works of both fiction and non fiction where the content is presented in as blunt a form as possible, and I think this is the case with Death Wish. Although some may accuse this film's makers of exploiting peoples' fear of criminals I think that the director was simply trying to be realistic, this way the viewer can get an idea of what it is like to be a victim of violent crime, be it yourself or a family member. Also, I'm sure that there are things happening in real life that are far worse that what has been shown in this film, but that's a different issue. This is why the rape scene, brutal as it may have been, was a necessity to set this film apart as a realistic action/vigilante film.
Another interesting thing about Death Wish is that the protagonist does not seem like a person who would be an vigilante, he's a middle aged man who is, dare I say, gentle. But when rape and murder hit his family he does not know what to do, especially when the police do not seem able to help at all. And so after receiving a pistol from a newly made cowboy type friend in the Southwest he begins to walk the streets awaiting the latest mugger attack so that he can properly undertake the capping of their behinds. This is one of the unique features of the first Death Wish compared to its sequels, Paul Kersey does not know who he is hunting, and so he simply caps whosoever should try to mug him. But in the sequels he knows exactly who he is searching for.
I also liked the action in this movie. It seemed to me that what Paul Kersey lacked in physical finesse he made up for in marksmanship. I particularly liked the scene where the two men follow him into the tunnel from the café and he has to fend off two men with knives at close range with a pistol. Even the slightest wrong move on the part of Kersey would have meant his doom.
Death Wish is a film of relief for those who have completely lost their patience with crime waves. It doesn't show muggers and rapists as victims of society, but as people who are able to exist freely in it. The film is correct in showing that so many of these criminals can do whatever they want and walk freely; statistically, only one out of every sixteen rapists will ever spend a day in jail. But it does fail statistically, as more sexual assaults are perpetrated on young women by people they know rather than by strangers, but that too is another issue.
on December 13, 2003
I recently saw "Death Wish" this year and instantly became one of my favorite films. The ageless Charles Bronson potrays a New York everyman whose wife and daughter are brutally attacked by scumbag intruders. The result has his wife dead and his daughter so distraught she has to be instutionized. Bronson's social mannerisms has turned into inner rage. He is given a handgun by an employee in Arizona and roams the scummy streets of NY. Bronson goes on a murder spree against muggers who try to piss him off. The police nickname the murderer the "vigilante killer." I like the realism of Bronson's character. He's not a psychotic killer, just an ordinary man that's pissed off at the world. He feels remorse at first (throwing up after his first killing) but can't stop from killing people. The cops soon catch up to him but not after several slayings. Bronson gives a excellent performance who's like "dirty harry" ina way. I haven't seen the endless sequels, but i heard there not so good.
on November 23, 2003
When Michael Winner asked the late Charles Bronson if he'd like to star in his new movie 'Death Wish', about a mild mannered chap who goes on a rampage shooting scumbags when his family is attacked, Bronson replied "Id like to do that". "The movie?" Winner enquired, "No", responded Bronson, "Shoot some scumbags".
When it was released in 1974, Death Wish stirred up enormous controversy. With its violent rape scene and apparent condoning of Paul Kersey's vigilante activities, Vincent Canby of the New York Times called it "one of the sickest movies ever made", claiming that it "raises complex questions in order to offer bigoted, frivolous, oversimplified answers".
The films message in enunciated best by Kersey in conversation with his wet blanket of a son in law; "What do you call people who, when they're faced with a condition of fear, run away?". His son sheepishly asks "Civilised?". In the west, society works on the understanding that when members of the public are done wrong, the State, which holds the monopoly on legitimate violence, takes peoples rights of revenge and retribution on itself. With this comes the caveat that the State is duty bound to exercise this right of revenge and retribution. But, as this film poses, what are we supposed to do when the authorities rescind this right, and by definition the rights of victims and the public, in the face of left wing/liberal notions of fairness for crooks? When the police don't protect us, who does?
For those who think this film silly, just look at the case of British farmer Tony Martin. Repeatedly burgled and repeatedly told by the police that they were powerless to act, Martin shot one burglar dead and wounded another when his home was broken into again. Unlike the burglars, Martin was arrested and sent to jail. The burglar who escaped was subsequently given legal aid to sue Martin. In Death Wish the police spend considerably more time trying to apprehend Kersey than the scum he is after. This is provocative political film making of the highest calibre, not far behind Pontecorvo's 'Battle of Algiers' and Costa Gavras' 'Z'. Some criticise the film for the ease with which Bronson finds muggers. As the Canadian film critic Mark Steyn wrote, "To be sure, he sort of goes looking for trouble. But in 1970's New York you didn't have to look far: just go to the park, ride the subway, take an evening stroll". This great movie loses one star only because it is not quite as good as the similarly themed 'Dirty Harry'.
There are a couple of problems with this movie. Charles Bronson is too macho an actor for the role of "bleeding heart liberal" turned vigilante Paul Kersey. He looks like a killer from frame one, and as a result his transformation is a little hard to swallow. A more normal looking actor might have been more believable, as Dustin Hoffmann demonstrates in 'Straw Dogs'. It also suffers in comparison to the book. The back story about a gun fighting father, introduced in the movie, is plain daft, and the police investigation in the film, which tracks Kersey down in pretty short order, feels tacked on and ill thought out. The ending of the book is better also. Called Paul Benjamin in the book, the Bronson character is caught red handed by a police officer. The officer removes his hat, turns his back and allows the Vigilante to escape. Oochoa gets nowhere near him in the book.
Ask yourself the question posed on the back of the paperback version of the book; "What do you do when your life lies in ruins and fear clutches at your heart? Do you shun the city and flee from its violence? Or do you do what Paul did - get a gun, learn to use it and start fighting back?"
This is the first of several films featuring Charles Bronson as Paul Kersey, a modern day urban equivalent of Robin Hood, Zorro, and the Lone Ranger. When initially released, Death Wish was immediately controversial as was Dirty Harry (1971). Audiences tended to be divided between those who were offended by what they considered to be excessive violence and those who (like Harry Callahan and Paul Kersey) had lost confidence in society's willingness and/or ability to respond effectively to violent crime. After seeing each of the two films for the first time, I vividly recall joining those around me in the theatre as they rose and cheered...and continued to applaud for several minutes. (By the way, that was the same audience reaction when I first saw Walking Tall.) I asked myself, "What's going on here? What's this all about?"
At least in the larger U.S. cities 30 years ago, residents had become totally fed up with traditional law enforcement initiatives. It was no longer safe to walk the streets at night. Even more dangerous to do so in public parks. Homes were robbed while people worked during the day. Many of the same homes were robbed again later after insurance coverage replaced the articles previously stolen. Racial animosities, drug abuse, and a widespread contempt for institutional authority all contributed to such problems.
When we first meet Kersey, he is in all respects a gentle man. A successful architect who is happily married (Joanna, Hope Lange) and a proud father of his beloved daughter, he is carefully positioned as a law-abiding citizen. To repeat, a gentle man. Over time, after his wife and daughter are brutally attacked by thugs who escape punishment, Kersey commits himself to ridding the city of such creatures. In fact, he seeks them out in the most likely areas (e.g. public parks and on subways), coldly and systematically killing as many as he can. Of course, other law abiding citizens are wholly supportive of his efforts but law enforcement officials correctly fear the possible implications of such vigilantism.
Director Michael Winner does a brilliant job of orchestrating Kersey's crusade with efforts by detective Frank Ochoa (Vincent Gardenia) to identify and then capture the public hero. Ochoa seems torn between admiration of such heroism and obligations to end it. Many of those who live in areas plagued by violent crime admire this movie. Others quite properly have concerns about anyone who "goes outside the law," as Kersey obviously does. Who among vigilantes will be Paul Kerseys? And who among them will be Travis Bickles? Good question.
on August 23, 2003
THIS MOVIE IS SO SUPERIOR TO ALL OF THE 'REVENGE' FLICKS IT SPAWNED THAT MOST OF THEM DONT DESERVE MENTION IN THE SAME BREATH.
DESPITE WHAT A LOT OF CRITICS SPEW, GIVEN THE RIGHT RESOURSES BRONSON IS A HECK OF AN ACTOR, AND THIS FILM IS EVIDENCE OF THAT.
LIBERAL (HASNT BEEN MUGGED YET) PAUL KERSEY'S WIFE AND DAUGHTER ARE BRUTALLY RAPED AND LEFT FOR DEAD IN THEIR UP TOWN NEW YORK CONDO. THE WIFE DIES AND THE DAUGHTER IS LEFT, A CATATONIC VEGETABLE.
KERSEY GRIEVES BY PLUNGING HIMSELF INTO HIS WORK WHICH SENDS HIM TO ARIZONA TO TROUBLESHOOT A SUBDIVISION. HE IS BEFRIENDED BY A WESTERNER BUSSINES TYPE, GREATLY PLAYED BY STUART MARGOLIAN OF 'ROCKFORD FILES' FAME. THEY WIND UP GOING TO A GUN CLUB WHERE KERSEY IS REINTRODUCED TO THE PLEASURES OF PISTOLS AND SOUND CONSERVATIVE PHILOSOPHY.
KERSEY RETURNS TO THE GUTTERS OF NEW YORK WITH A PISTOL AND A PLAN. MY ONLY PROBLEM WITH THE WHOLE FILM IS WHY THEY DIDNT REWRITE A LITTLE BIT AND GIVE KERSEY A MORE FORMIDABLE CALIBER OF REVOLVER, A .357 OR AT LEAST A .38. AT ANY RATE KERSEY SETS OUT TO TEMPT MUGGERS INTO TARGETING HIM AND THEN HE COOLY DOES WHAT THE 'LIBERAL' JUSTICE SYSTEM WONT. HE BALANCES THE SCALES BY BLOWING AWAY VARIOUS STREET SCUM WITH RUTHLESS EFFECIENCY.
WE CHEER AS KERSEY TAKES OUT THE TRASH. THE THING THAT MAKES THIS FILM SO REALISTIC IS THE SAME ELEMENT THAT MAKES ALL THE SEQUELS SUCK. IN 'DEATH WISH' KERSEY NEVER ACTUALLY CONFRONTS THE ACTUAL TURDS THAT DESTROYED HIS FAMILY. THIS ISNT HOLLYWOOD BUT IT IS REALITY AND THAT IS THE SINGLE MOST CREDIBLE THING ABOUT THIS PICTURE.
IN HIS LAST DECISIVE GUN BATTLE, KERESY, WHO IS WOUNDED HIMSELF AND IS ABOUT TO PASS OUT FROM BLOOD LOSS CHALLENGES A THUG TO FACE HIM IN TRUE 'DUKE' STYLE. "FILL YOUR HAND." HE SAYS MIMIKING A SCENE FROM JOHN WAYNES CLASSIC 'TRUE GRIT.' OF COURSE THE PUNK HAS NO CONCEPT OF ANYTHING BEYOND 'GETTING HIS FIX.' AND ABSCONDS WITHOUT DAMAGE AS KERSEY COLLAPSES.
FORGET THE SEQUELS AND AVOID THE LOOK A LIKES. 'DEATH WISH' IS THE ORIGINAL AND THE ONLY ONE THAT WORKS.
on July 11, 2003
In "Death Wish", pimps, drug-addicts, extortionists, thieves and other petty crooks rule most of New York City. When an ordinary, politically-noninterventionist citizen, Paul Kersey (played by Charles Bronson), finds that street ruffians have attacked his wife to death and raped his daughter causing her to go into a loss of consciousness, he seeks help from the law. With the police's apparent unwillingness to ameliorate the situation by finding the crooks, he is pushed to the limit, making Kersey decide to become vigilante. With a revolver he received from a friend while on a vacation in Texas soon after the tragedy, he stalks the streets of NYC. He lures any people he suspects as a crook or sees doing unlawful deeds into following him to a decent spot where he can shoot them. Although he greatly reduces the crime-rate of the city, this nonetheless has the police in question as to whether they are really doing their proper duties. The media tries to portray "the vigilante" as a menace to society but fail to convince people. But Kersey must beware of being caught.
Although Bronson's characterization as a normal-mild-mannered-man-turned-vigilante is specified for an acquired taste, as he seems like super-cool hero at times, the film's concept is thought-provoking. The scenes where Charles Bronson confronts random petty crooks are very suspenseful. The music is well orchestrated with catchy vibes and a good match for the overall tone of the film. Be warned: "Death Wish" is manipulating at times as it is very hard to deny that what the character is doing is more helpful than the operations carried out by law-enforcement. I do not recommend "Death Wish" to anyone with a weak stomach.
If you liked this film I would also recommend "Gorky Park".
Overall rating: 4 stars
Rated R for violence including an intense rape scene with nudity, and language.
on February 24, 2003
This is it! This is the original classic, Death Wish-Starring the most unlucky and harassed hero in cinematic history, Charles Bronson! You all know the story: Bronson is a "bleeding heart liberal" who goes on a murderous rampage when Jeff Goldblum and a few other punks sexually assault his wife and daughter, spraypaint his daughter's behind , and kill his wife. Naturally, this agitates Bronson. So, he hits the streets locked and loaded with a pistol that was given to him by a buddy and wages a one man war against the scum of New York. It's great to watch him take out lousy punks(like the guys who remade The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but unfortunately he doesn't get to them). Bronson really is a true punk-magnet-I mean, every time he goes out for a walk he runs into someone who tries to mug him! I 've never been to New York, but I'm sure it's not THAT bad. If you ask me, Bronson(and Eastwood) are THE original movie ... Before Rambo took on all of Vietnam by himself, Bronson was the one man wrecking crew. But Bronson isn't exactly the juggernaut action hero we all know him as in this film. The movie shows him awkwardly starting out as a vigilante. First by whacking a mugger with a sock full of quarters, then eventually graduating to shooting them. He even pukes after he shoots his first mugger! It's pretty interesting to see Charles Bronson apprehensive about shooting someone! This added a touch of realism to an already far fetched movie. But this is a good movie, a very good movie. The sequels gave it a bad name and made it a series that people look upon with laughter. Very similar to Rambo. The first one was actually very good before it got blown way out of proportion for the sequels. I will admit, I love the Death Wish sequels, but in a different way. Man, I'm really gonna miss the guy!
on January 21, 2003
This film is important for what I believe is the same reason that it seems to irk liberals ï¿½ it demonstrates that any person, no matter what their politics or what they might say or feel, can be completely changed by an event that affects them personally. (Picture Michael Dukakis in the 1988 debates with George Bush insisting he would not seek the death penalty if his wife were murdered. He may have ï¿½believedï¿½ thisï¿½.yet he wasnï¿½t ï¿½believableï¿½). This, to me, is the more powerful idea in ï¿½Death Wishï¿½, not the ethical question concerning vigilantism itself.
Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) is a liberal New York architect whoï¿½s life changes after his wife and daughter-in-law are beaten by thugs in their apartment. Kerseyï¿½s wife dies from her injuries and his daughter-in-law suffers severe psychological trauma. We first really learn of Kerseyï¿½s liberal leanings on his ï¿½rehabilitationï¿½ assignment in Arizona: His father died in a hunting accident (guns are just accidents waiting to happen, donï¿½t you know!) and he was a Conscientious Objector during the Korean war. But the initial tragedy, coupled by Kerseyï¿½s exposure to another, more ï¿½independentï¿½ way of life out west, slowly begins to change him. Once Kersey arrives back in the cesspool of New York and opens Stuart Margolinï¿½s (the Arizona land developer) ï¿½giftï¿½ (a .32 caliber revolver), his fate is sealed. Yet even then, his ï¿½conversionï¿½ is not immediate. After shooting his first attacker, Bronson dashes home to vomit in the toilet, still being repulsed by what has just happened.
Once Bronsonï¿½s path is set, he really begins to contrast with his son, who seems a symbol of the generic, helpless victim. Bronson may not be the best actor but his stone-like demeanor suits the role and he does a more than adequate job. In fact, the acting as a whole has a certain ï¿½sparsenessï¿½ about it, but that may be one of the elements that makes the film work. Some reviewers have been critical of the ï¿½datednessï¿½ of the movie ï¿½ well, after all it was made in 1974. If itï¿½s ï¿½datedï¿½, itï¿½s that, by todayï¿½s standards, the violence is somewhat tame, and thatï¿½s a plus in my book. If the movie has any drawbacks, it may be the cat-and-mouse game Kersey plays with the police chief (Vincent Gardenia), which ultimately begins to detract from the movieï¿½s central theme.
This is not ï¿½landmarkï¿½ film, but it is a good one worthy of many viewings, whether they be fun, cathartic or introspective. Herbie Hancockï¿½s score is an added plus.