From The Grindhouse Cinema Database
Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) is what his friends and co-workers best describe as a bleeding heart liberal. After returning from a vacation with is wife (Hope Lange) though, Kersey finds that he must adopt a change of heart when three thugs (one of which played by Jeff Goldblum, in his first film role) break into his apartment, rape his daughter, and kill his wife. Desperate for help from a police force that tells him little can be done, Kersey decides to take matter into his own hands and become a vigilante.
As he fights back against the muggers and thugs that rule the night, the city starts to sit up and notice and soon crime is down as other people decide to take a bit of a vigilante stance. Police Detective Ochoa (Vincent Gardenia) is desperate to find Kersey to stop him from the killing spree he has gone on, mainly because he fears that the vigilantism will spread to people "just being shot for looking scummy". As Kersey searches out the thugs that killed his wife, Ochoa gets closer and closer to tracking him down.
The first of five films (almost all of which are extremely bad), Death Wish is one of those typical examples of a decent film that does pretty well box office wise and is capitalized on in the worst way. When people discuss sequels being inferior to the first, it is usually because of the reputations of films like this. It would be understandable if the films had been done by people not associated with the first film, but both Death Wish 2 and 3 were directed by the first installment's director, Michael Winner.
Despite a very dated seventies look and some incredibly dopey moments (especially the ridiculous ending), Death Wish actually turns out to be a pretty good film. The script accurately presents the helplessness that we as a nation have against crime and makes us aware that the bad guys arenít always brought to justice like they often are in the movies. Plus, although it is obvious that what Kersey is doing is wrong, it is hard to not sympathize with him in his quest and hope that he is able bring his own familyís attackers to justice.
It is in this sympathy that the film becomes a little frustrating, though. Kersey does do his fair share of punk bashing during the course of the film, but he NEVER finds the guys who attacked his family. Although this is relatively realistic to actual society, it was sort of strange to see things not worked out at least partially. I admire the filmmakers and the screenwriter for giving such a bleak feeling to the film, but I also wanted to see some justice enacted on the thugs that led Kersey to his change of heart.
Note: Strangely enough, the novel that the film is based on is actually a diatribe against vigilantism. Much like the fact that the idea behind the novel which inspired First Blood was bastardized in future Rambo sequels, the central theme of the novel of Death Wish was changed into something that was completely the reverse of what the author intended. I'd love to know what Brian Garland felt when the film based on his novel released and he saw audience members start to side with Kersey's character.
Death Wish has been released on DVD through Paramount Home Entertainment. The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is also enhanced for 16x9 televisions. The transfer looks somewhat decent, despite the black levels in some night scenes looking a little green. The only special feature on the disc is a theatrical trailer that actually ruins the end of the film and has some incredibly cheesy seventies narration (For example: "He begins where all the supercops leave off" and "Never make a death wish, because a death always comes true... and you get to love it!").
Review by Pockets of Sanity