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DEATH WISH (1974)

1 rating: 5.0
Action & Adventure and Drama movie

This controversial, 1974 drama exploits urban paranoia and presents vigilantism as cathartic release. But it is also a captivating, Everyman-ish story of a New Yorker who goes through a sea change after crime depletes his family, and who runs afoul of … see full wiki

Cast: n, a
Genre: Action, Drama, Adventure
1 review about DEATH WISH (1974)

After 30 years, questions still remain....

  • Oct 9, 2003
Rating:
+5
This is the first of several films featuring Charles Bronson as Paul Kersey, a modern day urban equivalent of Robin Hood, Zorro, and the Lone Ranger. When initially released, Death Wish was immediately controversial as was Dirty Harry (1971). Audiences tended to be divided between those who were offended by what they considered to be excessive violence and those who (like Harry Callahan and Paul Kersey) had lost confidence in society's willingness and/or ability to respond effectively to violent crime. After seeing each of the two films for the first time, I vividly recall joining those around me in the theatre as they rose and cheered...and continued to applaud for several minutes. (By the way, that was the same audience reaction when I first saw Walking Tall.) I asked myself, "What's going on here? What's this all about?"

At least in the larger U.S. cities 30 years ago, residents had become totally fed up with traditional law enforcement initiatives. It was no longer safe to walk the streets at night. Even more dangerous to do so in public parks. Homes were robbed while people worked during the day. Many of the same homes were robbed again later after insurance coverage replaced the articles previously stolen. Racial animosities, drug abuse, and a widespread contempt for institutional authority all contributed to such problems.

When we first meet Kersey, he is in all respects a gentle man. A successful architect who is happily married (Joanna, Hope Lange) and a proud father of his beloved daughter, he is carefully positioned as a law-abiding citizen. To repeat, a gentle man. Over time, after his wife and daughter are brutally attacked by thugs who escape punishment, Kersey commits himself to ridding the city of such creatures. In fact, he seeks them out in the most likely areas (e.g. public parks and on subways), coldly and systematically killing as many as he can. Of course, other law abiding citizens are wholly supportive of his efforts but law enforcement officials correctly fear the possible implications of such vigilantism.

Director Michael Winner does a brilliant job of orchestrating Kersey's crusade with efforts by detective Frank Ochoa (Vincent Gardenia) to identify and then capture the public hero. Ochoa seems torn between admiration of such heroism and obligations to end it. Many of those who live in areas plagued by violent crime admire this movie. Others quite properly have concerns about anyone who "goes outside the law," as Kersey obviously does. Who among vigilantes will be Paul Kerseys? And who among them will be Travis Bickles? Good question.

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