The upcoming remake of Death Wish is one of the biggest question marks of the year. It’s a remake of a movie that’s a violent fantasy of retaliating against criminals; it stars Bruce Willis, who hasn’t led a theatrically released movie since 2013’s RED 2; and it’s directed by Eli Roth, who’s known more for directing gory horror films than action movies.
So where does that leave Death Wish in 2017? It’s hard to say, but MGM has released the first images from the movie along with some new details. Like the original, the story focuses on Paul Kersey (Willis), “a soft-tempered family man who turns hard with a vengeance after his wife (Elizabeth Shue) and daughter (Camila Morrone) are the victims of a violent home invasion.”
The remake has changed his profession from architect to surgeon, and they’ve moved the action from New York City to Chicago because Chicago has experienced a rise in homicides, although Roth tells Yahoo!, “We tried to keep it real, but this isn’t the movie to fully tackle that subject matter because it’s so grim and it’s such a big problem, you’re not gonna solve it in a film like Death Wish.”
As for inspirations, Roth says he looked to A History of Violence and Eastern Promises as well as Unforgiven, Sicario, Taken, and Man on Fire, basically a laundry list of movies with protagonists that don’t seek out violence, but can deliver a lot of pain if called upon to do so. “What’s interesting about Death Wish is it’s not a CIA guy who’s coming out of retirement, you know, he’s not John Wick, he’s not a professional assassin,” Roth said. “He’s a normal guy, he’s a surgeon, he’s a dad, he’s never picked up a gun in his life.” The Paul Kersey of the remake has to learn how to handle a gun from watching YouTube videos.
However, Roth also says that his horror background will provide some grisly kills, which was part of his pitch to the studio. “I said, ‘I can give you spectacular death scenes that no one else can give you,’” he recalled. “‘I will give you stuff that people will be talking about for years.’” Roth noted, however, that Death Wish isn’t about a body count, but “an awesome action-revenge,” movie.
While I hold out hope for Joe Carnahan’s script, I’m worried about Roth’s approach. It sounds like he’s making the kind of action movie that’s a dime a dozen right now where movie stars go on gritty killing sprees. Taken exists. John Wick exists. Death Wish offers something interesting because it’s about how we deal with crime when it personally affects us rather than highly-trained killer taking on the mob. I don’t really need to see Bruce Willis “learn” how to be John Wick. While this remake may deliver some bloody thrills, it seems like that’s all it might do.
Death Wish opens November 22nd.