Back in 1972, Brian Garfield released Death Wish, a novel which was a clear example of liberalism and its effects on society in both Good and Evil. Then a film version starring Charles Bronson, was released in 1974 and went way beyond what the book intended, establishing an interesting, original, yet much more controversial statement in dealing with crime and punishment, and is sure to blow away anyone that sees it, and make that someone put his money where his mouth is and try and defend his own views on the subject.Paul Kersey is a bleeding-heart liberal architect who’s enjoyed life to the fullest. He has a beautiful wife, Joanna (Hope Lange), and a daughter Carol (Kathleen Tolan) married to a high society guy. But soon things would go horribly wrong one day, since a gang of punks, disguised as shopping market delivery boys, manage to break into the house and kill Joanna and rape Carol. All in one day, Paul’s life is torn apart. Seeking desperately for peace of mind, Paul travels for a company landscape survey in Arizona, where a friend of his introduces him to guns (or reintroduces him), and as soon as he returns in New York, little by little, his inner fury is suddenly blown into vengeance against crime in general and turns into a Vigilante, which causes a huge stir in the streets, amongst the police, the criminals, and people in general.
"A Minor Classic That Surpasses All Expectations"
The film’s portrayal of vigilantism is as right as it is wrong. Crime has always been present in our society, and in a liberalist point of view, if you rob someone, you or the person that witnesses this have a right to punish the robber. Unfortunately, people at times take it into extreme by taking the law into their own hands and end up with a “Law of The Jungle” situation, hence the problem with this movie. The police force is there to protect our rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, but there will always be people that will always violate our rights, and the Police is not always there when we need it, hence the vigilantism, an issue which will forever be debated by both Liberal and Conservatist sides. Many will tend to agree with Paul’s idea of justice, especially in places where crime is overwhelming, and its better for someone to just grab all that scum and flush it in the toilet, hence justice is done. But it’s also wrong since were violating people’s rights (oh yes, as shocking as it is) to life, so hence the argument of about when “punishment can fit the crime.” In the novel, Garfield made this point clear and the message was that crime is wrong, but taking the law by your own hands CAN be as bad; in other words, he’s slamming the criminals and the vigilante. But what’s original about this movie is that is manipulative about the subject, instead of making a general point, it makes you think what is right? Is the vigilante solution a good one? Sure it can be, but are you willing to pay the price? But the counter issue arrives: Are you willing to accept crime as part of YOUR view of society? And of course, ridiculous, yet true statements will appear that if this happened, the police and the justice department would be out of the job. In any case, you’ll find yourself cheering for Paul (hell, I was), and why not? He’s doing society a favor, but if you analyze well, you might find a disturbing thought. Is he doing it rightfully? And that’s what’s great about the movie. Another great part that struck me was Paul’s transformation from bleeding-heart liberal to fascist vigilante, how he slowly transforms, from the first moment he hits a mugger with a sock full of quarters, to the moment he pulls his gun and shoots another mugger, with the climax being when he goes to his apartment and pukes his guts out. The screenplay also avoids formula, since Kersey doesn’t SPECIFICALLY go and try to find those muggers that destroyed his family, and kill them all, which would’ve made it a formulaic predictable suspense flick. Instead the fury is taken to the criminals in general in the streets, and that helps it a lot. Praise to the screenwriter Wendell Mayes for his work.
The technical aspects of it are also a few pluses in the film. The cinematography is great, but what’s best is the music score by Jazz legend Herbie Hancock, since it helps in most times establish the moods of most scenes, and is also as weird yet cool to listen (If you’ve heard Thomas Newman’s score in American Beauty, you’ll know what I’m talking about). Michael Winner’s direction is also on the spot, since it never overreaches, and lets the action happen like it’s supposed to happen, while never oveblowing the simplicity of the scene and the story itself. The performances were quite a surprise. Usually never has been a time to see Bronson take a role with this diversity, since the public is accustomed to the other Charles Bronson, the tough guy who doesn’t take any shit from anybody. But this role is surprising, and more surprising that Bronson pulls it off. He has a wooden face, but yet he still manages to deliver a likeable performance. The rest of the supporting cast is also great, especially Vincent Gardenia as Frank Ochoa, the detective who is trying to find who the vigilante is.In the end, this film has already been imitated over and over, and it’s considered a minor classic, yet it’s still as fresh and original as it was when it was originally released. Arguably, one of Bronson’s best films, this film is a must for any fan of film or fan of films like Dirty Harry (Just for the love of god, don’t watch the awful sequels). Besides, you get to see Jeff Goldblum in a bizarre cameo as one of the punks that get to “spray-paint” Kersey’s daughter. Who would’ve thought that possible?
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originally posted: 09/19/02 14:41:58