Glittering New York
The most remarkable thing about Death Wish is Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson), the perfectly cast, gruff white collar architect, who, after his wife is killed, suddenly finds himself accosted every time he walks the streets. In premise, Death Wish is ludicrously fabricated, contrived nonsense meant to elicit a politically motivated reaction, and Death Wish does everything it can to push people towards its belief.
Called a bleeding heart liberal while his boss believes the poor should be put in concentration camps, Death Wish makes its point early – even the most empathetic, understanding among us change after a, “It could happen to you,” situation. The problem is the absurdity, with New York’s gangs and goons preposterously over staged to seem utterly wild, dressed in colorful garb and shouting loudly as if wanting to draw attention to themselves.
Death Wish never abhors vigilantism
Death Wish never abhors vigilantism
There is but a singular moment that resonates in Death Wish, a brief glimpse of honesty in a grimy, exploitation excuse to kill. After shooting his first thug, Kersey comes home, drops to his knees, and vomits. Of course, that’s all it takes. By the next murder, his apartment is repainted, the record he plays is upbeat, and he’s smiling. Of course, the people love that he’s taking a stand.
Death Wish never abhors vigilantism. If anything, it makes the process look easy, or worse, satisfying. Amid the dreck and muck that soured ‘70s era New York, Kersey’s actions appear righteous, if only they were plausible. Every attack appears staged for theatrical effect; this man who hasn’t shot a gun since childhood (and Korean War conscientious objector) has the accuracy and speed of a professional sniper.
Viewing an old west stage show, Kersey smiles. That’s Death Wish’s ignition point, where the “hero” sees the showmanship in standing up for your town/city, those values propped up as outright saintly. It’s critical Kersey gets away with his crimes, not just for the equally ridiculous sequels (four of them!), but the legend.
As a western, New York’s citizens and criminals are told Kersey still walks the streets, building a legacy on violence and fear as a means of suppression. That’s what Death Wish suggests is morally pure for both Kersey and the police who spend more time on-screen running down prostitution than real crime. Death Wish never offers a solution for that though. That might become too introspective.
Advertised as a new 4K master, Death Wish isn’t too impressive on UHD. It’s a dirty print, holding a surprising level of dust for something new. Maybe that’s intentional to keep a certain grindhouse aesthetic. Regardless, for an original negative, the end result looks meh, indicative of a ’70s era film stock, but also gaining little over previous presentations in terms of detail, sharpness, and texture.
Luckily, Kino delivers an aggressive Dolby Vision pass that helps give life to this film stock. Brightness excels, every highlight intense, but varied. Death Wish still contains crushing black levels, and that’s at the source. Cinematography favors dark city corners, and night swallows shadow detail entirely.
Perfectly encapsulating the ’70s area via aggressive earth tones, browns and sepia dominate the palette. Flesh tones survive through the decades, and some primaries stick out. The couch in Bronson’s apartment brings a spectacular, vibrant red into the frame. Arizona locales bring some greenery, if still dulled by the brown-ish look.
DTS-HD stereo and a so-so 5.1 remix both limit fidelity. Stereo contains this better, but expect limited range and pinched treble. The score suffers, flattened and lifeless. Gunshots have no oomph, which even by stock studio standards sound wholly limited.
Author and historian Paul Talbot pops in to provide a commentary, and Kino also includes an interview with actor John Herzfeld.
Death Wish (1974)
Death Wish’s inherent contrivances and absurdities make it almost comical were it not desperately trying to make a point.
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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 37 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: