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Death Wish (1974)

DVD Cover (Paramount)
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6.9
 / 10
10 votes
Genres:
Crime, Crime Thriller, Urban Drama
Director:
Michael Winner Michael Winner
Starring:
Charles Bronson Charles Bronson
Hope Lange Hope Lange
Vincent Gardenia Vincent Gardenia
Steven Keats Steven Keats
William Redfield William Redfield
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Review by 385
Added: March 08, 2008
Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) is an architect living in New York, trying to live through an intense spike in muggings. Paul and his family, like almost everybody else in the city, are a timid bunch, and they just try and weather the crime as best they can. However, every man has a breaking point. In Paul's case, it comes when three men break into his apartment, violently beat his wife, Joanna (Hope Lange), to death and sexually molest his daughter, Carol (Kathleen Tolan). The attack leaves her a psychological mess; she's borderline catatonic and plagued by nightmares. Futhering Paul's anguish, the police come right out and tell him there's not that great of a chance of them finding the men that did this. "In the city, that's just the way it is." To try and give him some breathing room, his boss sends him on an assignment in Arizona. His client (Stuart Margolin) invites him out for a night at the gun club, where Paul reveals that due to his mother's objections he was never a fan of guns, despite having an excellent shot thanks to his dad's hunting trips. This anti-gun sentiment is countered by the point that in Arizona, everyone carries a gun and as a result, people fill safe walking down the street at night. With the seed already planted in Kersey's head, the liberal Arizonian unwittingly puts the last piece of puzzle into place by giving him an unregistered .32 pistol as a "thank you" present for his work on the project. Now Kersey turns to vigilantism, spending his nights baiting thugs into mugging him and then dealing out his final justice. Meanwhile, the NYPD are unsure whether to bring in the publically loved Vigilante and uphold the law, or sit back and enjoy the huge decrease in crime statistics.

Despite being released in the mid '70s, Death Wish still stands strong. Nothing about it seems too dated, and even today there are plenty of films still imitating it's style. One of the biggest reasons it's so solid is because it knows what it is, and doesn't try to be anything else. When it was released, it was met by a world of controversy and discussion of the morals behind vigilantism. While the novel it was based on (written by Brian Garfield) focuses more on this ethical standpoint, this was not carried over to the silver screen. Instead, everything is painted in shades of black and white. The thugs are all nothing but scum, and the heroes aren't given any more depth than they need. For example, Paul is called a 'bleeding heart liberal' a few times, and mentions he was a conscientious objector during the Korean War, and that's all the clues we're given to infer that his new night time activity is a complete 180 from the man he was. Now, I'm sure this ends up being much more realistic in the book, and I've no doubt that the fans of the source material were insanely disappointed at the end result, but for those in the mood for a simple revenge flick, well, look no further.

With a movie released in the '70s that borders on exploitation, you'd be crazy to expect anything special in the acting department. Indeed, most of our major roles here can all be found somewhere between mediocre and average, with the majority leaning towards the former. Still, that didn't stop this movie from making Charles Bronson a household name. In fact, it all but defined his career, and casual movie fans are most likely not able to imagine one without thinking of the other. And again, Death Wish is one of those movies that is able to be great despite all these marks against it. To put it simply, it is what it is, and the subpar performances in front of the camera is not going to hurt this film too much. As far as the minor roles, mention must be made to Jeff Goldblum in his movie debut as one of the thugs that assaults Paul's family. It was a bit of a shock to see him without the stoic, quirky style he would later become known for, but that didn't stop him from stealing the short amount of screen time he had.

This is one of those movies that everybody either loved or hated for the same reasons. In 1974, it was pretty damned edgy. Sure, this kind of vigilante plot was used with some frequency in westerns; but this was the first time it was brought into an urban setting, and loads of critics were up in arms against it, citing it as nothing more than pro-vigilante propaganda. Even Brian Garfield himself denounced it as such. On the other side, this movie definitely brought home the bacon; especially in crime-plagued city areas, where theatres' ticket sales reached record numbers. Hell, patrons would consistently applaud Kersey's spree. Even though the franchise would almost become a parody over the next twenty years, the original would serve to pave the way for many other films, including The Crow and The Boondock Saints. Most importantly though, it's just one hell of an entertaining flick. 8/10.
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Tristan #1: Tristan - added 03/08/2008, 02:33 PM
"Goddamn rich cunt! I kill rich cunts!"
God I love Goldblum. As far as the Death Wish films go, this is certainly the best. 7/10
Edd #2: Edd - added 03/09/2008, 11:31 AM
The first and only good film from the series.
bradbunson #3: bradbunson - added 03/09/2008, 04:31 PM
Number 3 was by far the best.
bluemeanie #4: bluemeanie - added 03/10/2008, 06:10 PM
The classic revenge film. Love it. 10/10.
Ramone #5: Ramone - added 03/17/2008, 11:44 PM
GOD DAMN RICH VOS! LL LEBB
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