A New York City businessman arms himself to face down local crime after his wife and daughter are raped and murdered. [ Death Wish credits: Dir: Michael Winner/ Charles Bronson, Hope Lange, Vincent Gardenia/ 93 min/ Action-Adventure/ Second Amendment]
The minute you see the loving husband at the center of this story adoring his beautiful wife in the opening scene of this film, you know she’s doomed. Death Wish is a story about revenge, and revenge requires victims. Indeed, within twenty minutes of the film’s beginning, the wife is murdered by vicious New York City thugs.
Shocked and depressed, the husband seeks refuge in his work, and goes to Arizona on business. While there, he is introduced by an acquaintance to the local gun culture. He is opposed to guns himself because his father was killed in a hunting accident. Nonetheless, when he receives a gun as a gift upon his return to New York City, he begins walking around armed, in the kinds of places sensible people don’t go. Over and over again, he’s attacked and each time he successfully defends himself, killing most of his assailants.
News of this “vigilante” soon gets out. His actions inspire others to start defending themselves, and the crime rate plummets. However, the cops are on to him. Foreshadowing the case of Bernard Goetz, the city government in this story is much more interested in catching him, a threat to their police monopoly, than run-of-the-mill killers. In the end he’s driven out of town, but it’s clear as he arrives in his new home of Chicago that his crusade against crime is going to continue.
Of course, vigilantism probably isn’t the best solution to rampant crime, but heightened self-defense certainly has a role, and you can interpret most of the hero’s actions here as either. On the one hand, he’s looking for trouble, but on the other, he doesn’t actually do anything until he’s assaulted.
In any case, this film is a must-see for Second Amendment fans. Gun ownership is explicitly defended both in theory and by example, though not for the real reason it was enshrined in the Constitution, as one of several checks on government power.
This is also edge-of-the-seat entertainment and was popular enough to inspire three sequels. The direction and most of the acting are competent, though not remarkable. What really drives this film is the gritty, unstoppable Charles Bronson in the leading role and a story exciting enough to make anyone’s heart race. Victims of serious crime in particular will find it very satisfying, perhaps even cathartic. However, sensitive viewers should beware that there is a rape scene, which occurs near the beginning of the film.
Death Wish II and Death Wish III are essentially continuations of the same story, but by Death Wish IV, the hero is assassinating cocaine dealers at will. Yet another case for term limits.