Back in 2012, fresh off the success of his thoughtful and surprising drama The Grey, filmmaker Joe Carnahan signed on to tackle a remake of the Charles Bronson actioner Death Wish. It was a swell match between director and material, as Carnahan’s penchant for gritty, hard-nosed thrillers was honed on films like Narc and Smokin’ Aces. However, as the project moved along, it became clear that Carnahan and MGM weren’t seeing eye-to-eye on the version of Death Wish to bring to the screen. It came to a head when the studio insisted that Bruce Willis would take the lead role, and Carnahan subsequently left the film.
The project went through two other rounds of filmmakers before finally going before cameras with Eli Roth directing and Willis starring, but when Collider’s own Steve Weintraub recently spoke with Carnahan during an exclusive interview, the filmmaker revealed that he still plans on doing something with his Death Wish script:
“It’s being shot right now, they’re off shooting a version of that script with Bruce Willis, I think in Montreal, maybe Chicago? I’m not sure. It’s, you know, if you don’t have something nice to say, you probably shouldn’t say it. I got a glimpse of that script, that was reported to be kind of a re-engineering of my script, and I would be less than hospitable if I commented on that. And whatever, I think they’re gonna get exactly what they want, and that wasn’t what I was interested in doing, and bully to them for sticking their guns, and I’m content to stick to mine, and that script will live to fight another day. That’s what I’m gonna look forward to, because it’s so radically different from what I did that I’m confident I can rework that into something just as good as it is on the page. It’s really a great script, man.”
Carnahan explained that his iteration of the story was very much a Michael Mann-inspired thriller set in L.A., and given how different the current approach to Death Wish is, the director feels like there’s still a way to turn his script into a different, non-Death Wish film:
“Oh yeah, I don’t think there’s any question about [still making it], and I think I’ll wait a few years and explore that, because I believe that it’s, in terms of that genre and revenge vigilante, I just thought it was so cool. And it’s set in a completely different place. A big part of mine was where it was set, which is L.A. It wasn’t cold weather, it wasn’t a Chicago or New York film, it was an L.A. film, and it was much more of a Michael Mann kind of world, Collateral kind of world, than it was the original Bronson. And I think they’re going back to something that hews more closely to that, which is fine, but I’ll be interested to see what it does and what the reception is.”
But that may be a ways off yet, as Carnahan is currently focused on preparing to direct Bad Boys 3 and scripting the Uncharted movie for Sony and director Shawn Levy. And beyond that, Carnahan’s been keeping busy as a producer, shepherding the action-thriller Wheelman starring frequent collaborator Frank Grillo.
Written and directed by Jeremy Rush, the film follows a getaway driver who realizes he’s been double-crossed after a bank robbery and seeks revenge. The film was shot in Boston and will be distributed by Netflix, and when asked what audiences can expect, Carnahan teased one hell of a throwback performance from Grillo:
“[People can expect] an absolutely extraordinary performance by Frank Grillo. A McQueen-esque throwback kinda performance by Grillo, where he cements himself as The Man. They just don’t make ‘em like that anymore. He belongs to a generation of guys like Lee Marvin and McQueen, Coburn and Mitchum, Eastwood, those antihero kinds. But it has such a degree of subtlety with his ability to shift his emotional terrain what with his ex-wife and his daughter. I’m telling you, Pat McKinley, the who’s cutting for us, he was his editor on Kingdom, said to him, ‘I’ve been cutting you for years, I’ve never seen you do anything like this.’ And that’s the highest praise is coming from your editor, who’s used to looking at your mug day in and day out. It was a hell of an experience. This is my guy, and watching him work was a real pleasure, a real joy.”
Carnahan also revealed that the film will definitely be rated R.
“It’s definitely an R-rated film. I don’t know if it’s a hard R, but it’s definitely an R, there’s a lot of language alone. I have my share of fucks, and Frank may have doubled my count. It’s got great, tremendous action, and tremendous driving stuff… We got Jeremy Fry who’s our driver, and Eddie Fernandez, our stunt coordinator, boy, they put some sequences together that were just magnificent. And there’s a scene with Garret Dillahunt and Frank that’s one of the most oddly shockingly violent and sad scenes I’ve ever witnessed or shot. Jeremy Rush, the director, just did a hell of a job. So yeah, it’s definitely an R, dunno about hard, but definitely an R.”