A new iteration of the vigilante movie Death Wish opens on Friday, and hoo boy, is it going to explode like no other movie in recent memory.
The movie, starring Bruce Willis as Paul Kersey (a role that revived the long career of Charles Bronson back in the ’70s), was set for release in November 2017, but was delayed until this Friday.
There was no way to know a mass shooting – one in which police and mental health authorities utterly failed to protect young students gunned down in a Florida school – would suddenly change the tone and tenor of the movie.
In the original, Paul Kersey is a mild-mannered architect, in love with his wonderful wife Joanna and their daughter Carol, living in Manhattan. One day, two hoodlums (one of whom is a very young Jeff Goldblum, starring in his very first movie) follow the women home from a grocery store. They beat Joanna to death and brutally rape Carol – leaving her in a catatonic state – in a scene considered very graphic for the day.
Kersey has abhorred guns his whole life: His father was killed in a hunting accident. Soon, he becomes frustrated with the slow pace of the police investigation. He takes long walks, and one night he takes along an antique .32-caliber gun given to him by a friend. When a mugger attacks him, Kersey shoots him dead.
The soft-spoken architect likes the feeling. He’s doling out justice on the spot in the mean streets of New York City. Soon, he’s taking nightly walks, killing several criminals – some of whom he provokes into attacking him. Before long he ends up – guess where? – Chicago! Yes, the city where 650 people were slain in 2017. The city, run by Obama crony Rahm Emanuel, has some of the most restrictive gun laws in the nation.
That’s where the new “Death Wish” picks up. Willis plays Kersey, but this time he’s a doctor. The rest of the plot is essentially the same – but different, given that now, people film him on their cell phones during his vigilante acts. “Everybody’s watching this viral video, this guy in a hoodie, they’re calling him the grim reaper,” says a radio DJ in the film’s trailer.
“He stopped a carjacking. He’s become a folk hero. Is he right for taking the law into his own hands?” the DJ asks. At another point, a deep voice says simply: “If a man really wants to protect what’s his, he has to do it himself.” But when a friend tells Kersey: “You’re not a cop!” he says “Somebody has to do it!”
At another point in the trailer, a cop says: “They called him a guardian angel.”
And that’s where things get very interesting. A few years after the original film came out, the Guardian Angels were born.
Curtis Sliwa formed the organization to combat widespread violence and crime on the New York City subway system. Soon, more than 130 cities had Guardian Angels protecting citizens. They were trained to make citizen’s arrests for violent crimes.
Then “Death Wish II” came out, in 1982. Just before the release of “Death Wish 3,” Bernhard Goetz shot four muggers on a New York City subway train in Manhattan, seriously wounding all of them.
The New York City media dubbed him “The Subway Vigilante,” and his vigilantism struck a chord with city dwellers living in fear (crime was insane in New York back then, with 2,000 murders a year). Goetz was hailed by many as a hero, and at his 1987 trial, he was acquitted of attempted murder and assault and convicted on just one count – illegal weapons possession.
In his interrogation, Goetz told police of the muggers: “They were intending to play with me like a cat plays with a mouse. What happened here is, I snapped.”
And that’s what happens to Kersey. In the original, he’s not some gun nut – just the opposite, he was a conscientious objector during the Korean War who still served as a combat medic. But he arms himself and, forced to act, takes the law into his own hands.
There are some great – and suddenly very timely – exchanges in the Bronson movie. Ames Jainchill, the pal who gives Kersey the antique gun, says: “There’s so much g—— hoopla from the gun-control people, half the nation’s scared to even hold a gun.”
Learning Kersey was a conscientious objector, Jainchill says: “You’re probably one of those knee-jerk liberals thinks us gun boys’ll shoot our guns ‘cuz it’s an extension of our penises.”
But then Jainchill explains: “Well, maybe it is. But this is gun country. Can’t even own a handgun in New York City. Out here I hardly know a man who doesn’t own one. And I’ll tell you something: unlike your city, we can walk our streets and through our parks at night and feel safe. Muggers operating out here they just plain get their asses blown up.”
At one point, Kersey watches a TV news program, which is covering one of his vigilante acts. The TV anchor says: “The actions of the vigilante, as lawless as they may be, seem to be giving others new attitudes toward crime in the streets. Instead of helplessly allowing themselves to be mugged and robbed, a few are fighting back.”
Americans today are fearful about their safety. Thousands of people flocked to the Florida State Fairgrounds last week for a gun show event, shortly after the high school shooting that left 17 dead.
“Some of the people attending are afraid that future legislation will impact their gun ownership rights,” the manager of the show said.
The new Willis vehicle is already being slammed – and tied to President Trump.
“Like a Donald Trump speech on immigration, the unspoken threat against normal (white) American (white) families is articulated as practically inevitable. It’s less of a question and more of a statement: Bad people are here and bad things are coming. Will you just sit back and let this happen to you? Where is your weapon?” writes The Daily Beast. “The trailer stops just short of effectively selling a Trumpian fantasy, and instead exists in a confusing space that’s just plain not the world we live in.”
And more: “Apparently you can make the movie today, but if you’re thinking that this still isn’t the right time for vigilante porn, you’re right. The horrible, chilling truth is that, as insensitive as it may seem to release this film at this moment, there never will be a ‘good time’ for Death Wish – not just because the politics of the movie are problematic at best but because, if we keep going the way we’re going, there will just be another tragedy around the time of the next release date.”
Whichever way you slice it, the new “Death Wish” is going to create a huge conversation. And it won’t be pretty.