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Review: DEATH WISH (1974)

by Meredith Grau

http://facebook.com/quoththemaven

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Best Bad Quote:

“Why haven’t you found my dog? He’s vital to my income! He paints marvelous pictures with his balls!”

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Oh, I know what you’re thinkin’. “Death Wish isn’t a bad movie, you bitch!” And you’re right. It’s not. It’s awesome. However, in the grand tradition of sequel contamination, the legacy of the Father was increasingly corrupted by his sons, which are to be reviewed in succession hereafter. But, we cannot understand the deplorable conditions of Death Wish-es 2-5 until we comprehend the genius of the original. Read it and weep, Jodie Foster, there can only be one Brave One, and his name… is Bronson.

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Paul Kersey is a happily married man, pacifist, architect, and romantic. He enjoys sex on the beach with his plain Jane wife (Hope Lange), amiably chastising his racist co-workers, and spoiling his daughter (Kathleen Tolan) and son-in-law (Steven Keats). Unperturbed and stress free, he exists in perpetual halcyon bliss shaking his head at the madness outside his sanctuary. A veteran, he’s seen the dark side of mankind and has no intention of revisiting it.

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That is, until his wife and daughter are stalked by a freakish trio (led by Jeff Goldblum, of course), raped, and– in the wife’s case– murdered. With the love of his life dead, his damaged daughter now several cards short of a full deck, and the cops doing nada, Paul’s usual rationale and calm, cool exterior is pushed to the limit. Of course, this could also be because his annoying, emasculate son-in-law says, “Da-ad” every five seconds. (Drinking game? Consider it). Paul wants justice, and if the coppers aren’t going to avenge his wife, then he sure as f*ck will!

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Yes, Satan’s Angel has fallen from his celestial cloud and landed solidly on the earth, which is crowded with prostitutes picking their noses, gangs run amok, and weasle-y white guys with switchblades. After defensively pummeling one of the latter goons with a sock full of quarters, Paul takes a business trip to get out of dodge, but distance can’t quell his blood lust. He returns with a gun (thanks to Texas) and a vigilante agenda: clean up the streets to preserve what beauty remains. It goes without saying that he paints the town red, almost psychically conjuring petty thieves into his sadistic death traps— a switch on a switch, the villain becomes the victim.

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Morality steps in in the form of Detective Frank Ochoa (Vincent Gardenia), which raises the age old question of an eye for an eye. Is Paul martyring himself to this life of darkness for the good of man or merely adding to its disease? The answer is left to the viewer to decide, but I think we can all agree that, in a world where ya’ can’t count on Moses, we’d feel a lot safer if the man with the cool blue eyes was leading us out of Hell.

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Is Death Wish the greatest movie ever made? No. (Yes). NO! But in an age where we’re inundated with superheroes with super-duper powers and conveniently loaded bank accounts, it’s somewhat of a relief to indulge in a story about the average man gone wrong (or right) in the name of justice. The violence in Death Wish is not celebrated or glamorized. It’s heinous, honest, bleak, and undramatic. You live; you die. It’s not about good vs. evil, it’s about balancing the two, losing your footing, and realizing how easy it is to lose yourself in the dance. 

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True, the film is dated, and the beginning is preettty cheese ball. While staring at Chuck B. in a blue speedo, you will be thinking, “This… Ain’t right…” And it’s not. However, the absurd presentation of happy-happy joy-joy and the twisted manner in which it is immediately debunked creates a cartoonish depiction of This American Life and makes a sham of the superficial and commercialized presentation of it we find ourselves thoughtlessly believing in. What about how the other half lives? Thus, Bronson’s reluctant pistol of fury on the unforgiving streets of the equally surreal but brutal realities of raw existence feel more honest and compelling than the general action film: no SpFx, no Hollywood, no Happy Endings. It is what it is.

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Anyway, it’s not about ‘action’ in and of itself. It’s about the subtle lines between the glorious and the gruesome. And who better to portray with ease the masochistic transmigration between the two than cinema’s favorite, underplaying, silent threat? Watch out, mean streets. The ghost of Redemption is coming.

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Rating:

5 out of 5 Galavanting Goldblums

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