To be sure, Death Wish is dated; many of its more sheltered detractors accuse it of being an exaggerated portrayal of NYC crime in the '70s. These criticisms are as precious as they are confused. While it's certainly a sensationalist and exploitive film, the crimes featured in it were quite commonplace, as were their depicted frequency.
While always capable, Charles Bronson was never a terribly nuanced actor. His straightforward, understated performance here is as powerful as it is reserved, relying on his talent for subtle expression and his considerable screen presence. His Paul Kersey is a mild-mannered architect of trendy sensibilities: his heart bleeds ever so sweetly for the underprivileged, regardless of the criminal element so prominent among them. But when his wife is murdered and his daughter is beaten and raped by a gang of "underprivileged" thugs, Kersey experiences a dramatic change of opinion. His gradual transformation from a gentle professional to a hardened, vicious vigilante is realistically portrayed - an impressive aspect of the film that owes as much to Michael Winner's tense, blunt direction as Bronson's striking performance.
Although it's frequently brutal and a bit clumsy in spots, Death Wish provides a perceptive and even compelling perspective of its subject matter. I've read and heard this film referred to as "pro-gun propaganda" more than a few times, and while that description is over the top, there's no doubt that screenwriter Wendell Mayes was catering to the victimized everyman when he adapted Brian Garfield's novel of the same name to the screen. Ultimately, the core issue of this movie is not the subject of guns but instead the cost of so-called civility. When a society makes self-defense practically impossible for the average individual and law enforcement establishments are unable or unwilling to fulfill their tasks, what reasonable course of action can that everyman engage in? While Kersey's choice of action is extreme and probably misguided, it isn't impossible to relate to.
It's nice to see that Death Wish has been remembered and appreciated so many years after it first became a smash hit. It may well be the first American film about urban vigilantism, and it deserves its modest legacy. The absurd, frequently hilarious Golan-Globus sequels are a hoot, but this first entry is a film that you can take at face value.
Charley Bronson portrays Paul Kersay, a mild mannered soul who's life is turned upside down when some punks ruin his happy life. After some deep soul searching, Charley comes to the conclusion that all those punks out there walking the streets need a lesson. So, after donning a beannie cap and a heavy jacket, Charley decides to give them all a taste of their own medicine. The night time is the wrong time for muggers when Charley's around. This is the first film in what would later … more