With November’s Death Wish, his remake of the 1974 Charles Bronson favorite that spawned four sequels, director Eli Roth is all about bringing another generation’s iconic action star back into the type of box office hit he deserves.
“We wanted to bring back that great, classic Bruce Willis we all know and love and just do a fun, badass update of a revered classic,” Roth told Yahoo Movies. “I wanted to bring Bruce back to that Fifth Element, Unbreakable, Die Hard glory and have him craft another iconic performance, and I really think he did it. I mean I really think this can be his Taken. The fun is watching him go crazy and watching someone slowly move the moral goal post.” Willis, 62, is widely regarded as one of the preeminent action stars of our time, yet a number of his recent films — including titles like Vice, Extraction, Precious Cargo, and First Kill — have failed to make an impact.
Like Bronson, Willis plays Paul Kersey, a soft-tempered family man who turns hard with a vengeance after his wife (Elizabeth Shue) and daughter (Camila Morrone) are the victims of a violent home invasion. Whereas the original Kersey was a New York architect, this reincarnation is a Chicago surgeon. The relocation allowed Roth and screenwriter Joe Carnahan to acknowledge the Windy City’s murder epidemic. (“We tried to keep it real, but this isn’t the movie to fully tackle that subject matter because it’s so grim and it’s such a big problem, you’re not gonna solve it in a film like Death Wish,” Roth said.)
Death Wish is a departure for Roth, the actor (Inglourious Basterds), writer, and director best known for helming grisly horror fare like Cabin Fever (2002), Hostel (2005), and The Green Inferno (2013). The 45-year-old hopes to follow in the footsteps of filmmakers like Sam Raimi, Peter Jackson, and David Cronenberg, visionaries who cut their teeth in horror before spreading their wings in other genres.
Roth specifically looked at Cronenberg’s work on A History of Violence and Eastern Promises in crafting impressive set pieces and escalating moments of tension. Other influences he cited are Unforgiven, Sicario, Taken, and especially, Tony Scott’s 2004 thriller Man on Fire.
“What’s interesting about Death Wish is it’s not a CIA guy who’s coming out of retirement, you know, he’s not John Wick, he’s not a professional assassin,” Roth said. “He’s a normal guy, he’s a surgeon, he’s a dad, he’s never picked up a gun in his life.” This Paul Kersey learns how to handle steel by watching YouTube videos and at one point almost gets merked by his own ricocheted bullet.
“And with each kill as he gets closer to finding the people that did this to his family, he gains a new skill. He gets better and better and better. So by the end of the film he’s really much closer to John McClane… The very things that make him a good surgeon are what eventually make him a great killer.”
In turn, the very things that made Roth a good horror director could make him a great action director. Near the top of that list: He knows how to stage one helluva death scene. And that was part of his pitch from the get-go. “I said, ‘I can give you spectacular death scenes that no one else can give you,'” he recalled. “‘I will give you stuff that people will be talking about for years.'”
And though death tolls seem to be ever-increasing in the age of films like John Wick and Free Fire, Roth cautions not to expect an over-the-top bloodbath: “People that are fans of my other movies will not be disappointed when they go to see Death Wish but it’s not Hostel 4,” he said. “Man on Fire is not a body count movie. Unforgiven is not a body count movie. Sicario is not a body count movie. History of Violence, Eastern Promises, ,these are all the inspirations… I wanted to make an awesome action-revenge.”
He wanted to make another Die Hard. At the very least he’s got the right leading man for the job.
Death Wish opens Nov. 22.
Watch Denzel Washington talk about the internet rumor that he appeared in ‘Death Wish’:
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