Death Wish (1974)

(In French, On Cable TV, April 2018) The mid-seventies really weren’t a cheerful time for popular entertainment in general, or New York City in particular—Hollywood was still churning out reactions to being unshackled from the Hays Code, whereas NYC was experiencing unprecedented levels of crime. People wanted quick and simple solutions, and so a vigilante character stepped in, incarnated by Charles Bronson. Death Wish itself has spawned so many imitators—the basic story is visceral and easy enough to do on a low budget—that it does feel dull by today’s standard: The story moves along at a plodding pace, and the film feels long even at 94 minutes. Bronson is too old (and far too menacing) to play the part, but who cares—it’s the idea that counts, or more specifically the fantasy of taking complete revenge upon irremediable criminals. It would be easy enough to regret the normalization of revenge fantasies in pop culture (so much so that the 2018 remake of Death Wish passed along almost unnoticed in theatres) but that’s shouting at a horse long after it has left the barn. What matters most is the film’s keystone place in the landscape of mid-seventies cinema, and how it acts as the apogee of a dark-gritty-violent trend that would create an appetite for escapist fare along the lines of Star Wars. In many ways, there’s no need to see the original Death Wish—it’s been redone so often since then that it’s almost superfluous.

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