Review: DEATH WISH (1974) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Review: DEATH WISH (1974)

RATING: 2.5/5

One of the most influential movies of the 1970s, DEATH WISH was a landmark genre that chronicles on a man who takes the law into his own hands, which was better known as vigilante.

In this movie that propelled Charles Bronson into stardom, he plays Paul Kersey, a mild-mannered architect living in New York City. He has a beautiful wife Joanna (Hope Lange) and a daughter named Carol Anne (Kathleen Toran). One day, three crazy thugs (among them is Jeff Goldblum, in his first screen debut) break into his apartment while he's gone, ends up killing his wife and brutally raping his daughter. With the police unable to locate the culprits and his daughter is left heavily traumatized, Paul begins to arm himself with a gun and patrolling the streets during nighttime. He kills muggers and thieves whenever he encounters them. At first he feels sickening in his quest for street justice, he is gradually enjoying doing it until he becomes a hunted man himself. News about his one-man vigilante eventually made him a public sensation, but Police Detective Frank Ochoa (Vincent Gardenia) desperately wants him to be arrested at all cost.

Wildly controversial at the time of its release, DEATH WISH was heavily panned by (many) critics (even source author Brian Garfield openly discredited this movie) for its sensationalistic subject matter about vigilantism as well as its excessive violence. But this landmark revenge thriller went on becoming a cultural phenomenon and even ended up as a box-office smash. Stoic-faced Charles Bronson is perfectly typecast for a mild-mannered everyman-turned-vigilante, even though his acting performance consists mostly on mumbling his lines. Michael Winner's direction (a role that was originally intended for Sidney Lumet but dropped out to direct SERPICO instead) is gritty especially the way he depicts New York City as a bleak place filled with despicable criminals and particularly shows little restraint in term of executing violence and sex (especially the brutal rape scene at the beginning of the movie).

As iconic and sensational as this movie was, DEATH WISH remains heavily flawed in term of its overall execution. The plot is predictable and the pace is mostly deadening. Personally I found this movie is overrated.

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