Recently, as in since this all began, the pandemic to end all pandemics (I am using humor here, please don’t think I don’t take it seriously), I decided to watch the Death Wishes. Bruce Willis had done a remake of the movie Charles Bronson did. I could watch both for free on Amazon so I did. Here are my comparisons, which I have been meaning to do for a while.
Now I can take Bruce or leave him. He’s done a couple of movies I just loved. The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable. I don’t mind Die Hard. I like Red (Karl Urban is in that and great too). But lets face it, he’s not always the greatest actor. He’s okay. And I think I’ve heard as a person he can be…challenging.
There will be massive spoilers going forward so be warned should you desire to see them.
I saw Bruce’s version first. His character is named the same as Charles’ is. Paul Kersey. But Bruce’s Kersey is a trauma surgeon in Chicago. He saves lives of gang members and the like all day long, plus good guys too. In the city. He has a very nice suburban life with a beautiful wife and almost graduating high school senior. His slightly less successful brother is played by one of my absolute favorites, Vincent D’onofrio . In the beginning Vincent’s character asks Kersey for money, which he loans him. They go out of their way at first to show that Kersey is not a touch guy with several scenes. Then he goes out to dinner with his wife, daughter, and brother. They have a nice dinner and the daughter talks about where she will go to college. The valet guy overhears where they live while they are talking as he’s getting their car and he hears them say that the next night they won’t be home as they are going out for Paul’s birthday dinner.
Believing they won’t be home, this dude, who is a scumbag criminal, arranges for him and his band of thieves to rob their house. But as it turns out, Paul being a trauma surgeon, is called in to work at the hospital that night and the birthday dinner is to be postponed. The thieves don’t know this, however, and so break in and terrorize Paul’s wife and daughter. When the wife sees they are getting rough with her daughter, she tries to intervene and one of them shoots her. They then beat the teenaged daughter until she is in a coma.
Paul and his brother end up running to where they are taken at the hospital and they are told the wife died but the daughter is in this coma. They never say she is raped, which I am grateful for, since she’s supposed to be a teenager. It’s just implied here that they beat her. (more about the rape when I get to Bronson’s).
Now for much of the rest of the movie, his daughter remains in a coma. Kersey is treating a gang member one day in the hospital and the dude’s gun falls onto the floor. He kicks it under the table to collect it later. He has gone to the police and they are having trouble solving the crime.
Anyhow, one day he sees this couple getting mugged and he ends up using the gun to save them, and thereafter, he makes it his business to find the ones who were responsible to what happened to his wife and daughter.
And he does. He gets every one of the guys responsible. And in pretty brutal ways, not gonna lie.
Now the daughter wakes up toward the end and goes home with Kersey and his brother (who paid Kersey back) and is probably the most likeable character in the movie, and as they are leaving the hospital, Kersey sees the final guy responsible. The daughter doesn’t remember much but this thug thinks she might some day so he decides to go back to Kersey’s house to kill her. But this time Kersey is ready and has her hide and he kills the thug and the cops look the other way because they feel bad they couldn’t solve the case. But they tell him stop killing people and he’s like I got them. I’m done.
Now in some ways I expected Bronson’s movie to be less brutal than Bruce’s. Because movies can do much more now than they did then. But on the other hand I realized this was still Bronson and it was still going to be brutal. It was and a few scenes actually were worse for me.
First, the 70s porn music that played throughout was just horrible. That’s a side note.
In the 1970s one, Kersey is an architect rather than a doctor and they live in New York City not Chicago. Kersey and his wife (a famous actress of the time and I can’t recall who, it wasn’t Bronson’s wife Jill though, who he did do movies with) have been vacationing in Hawaii. When they return, they go out of their way to show that Kersey is a bleeding heart liberal and thinks criminals get a bad rap and are just down on their luck.
The Kerseys have an adult daughter in this one and she is married. In this one, Kersey’s wife and daughter are spending the day together and they are seen at a local high end grocery store that delivers to their high-rise apartment. A group of “freaks” sees them. That is even what they are called on IMDB. None of the freaks are recognizable save for one, and it’s Jeff Goldblum in his very first role. Anyway, these freaks follow Kersey’s wife and daughter back to their apartment building and somehow sneak through a side door even though it’s the kind of building with a doorman.
They ring the bell of the apartment and because they are waiting for groceries to be delivered, the daughter opens the door. The freaks come in and brutally beat both women. They try to rob them but they have very little cash. They then rape the daughter. I had read that she got raped and I was hoping it wasn’t especially graphic but it was graphic enough trust me. There is one thing they do that…I can’t even say. Anyway, it’s mercifully fast and over.
But they leave the women for dead. The daughter manages to call her husband and they are taken to the hospital where the wife dies. The daughter lives but is never the same and just stares into space and is eventually committed to a mental hospital.
Kersey has the son-in-law in this one and he is whiny and annoying. The brother character in the later version is much better.
Anyway similar to the remake, Kersey begins to go after criminals and he ends up killing a lot of them and gets a reputation as a vigilante killer in the city and many people like him because of it.
Unlike the remake, the cops never figure out who the “freaks” were and neither does Kersey. So he never gets those directly responsible for what happened to his wife and daughter.
But I found Bronson’s Kersey to be surprisingly much more sympathetic. When he first starts killing muggers and the like he gets sick and hates himself for it. Feels terrible. Bruce never does. And anyway he just seemed like he had been a nicer guy.
In the end, just like in Bruce’s the cops tell him to stop killing and he says he will. But he then moves to Chicago and starts to look at criminals like he’s not done.
Now, like I said, I thought Bronson was more sympathetic, but I liked how in Bruce’s he went after the guys who actually attacked his wife and daughter rather than random thugs. The son-in-law in Bronson’s was horrible and whiny and the brother in Bruce’s was one of the best parts. I liked how the daughter recovered in Bruce’s and also because she was a teen, they didn’t go the rape route. The music in the 70s version was just awful.
I didn’t come away with hating either movie but I can’t say I loved either movie or even liked them. They weren’t the worst movies I’d ever seen, but they were, like, meh.