I went into Death Wish expecting a laugh a minute, but in that respect, I was disappointed. For all its faults, the movie was never meant to be a joke. It’s far too earnest, and it even tries to have a little bit of heart.
The story arc follows a path so direct it could almost be described as ruthless: Charles Bronson plays a mild-mannered architect who lives in New York City. His wife and daughter are attacked and brutalized by a trio of vicious, animalistic thugs while he is at work one day, and the assault drives him a little insane. He repaints his living room a ghastly color to help him cope, but when that doesn’t do the trick, he begins to walk around New York shooting thugs instead. The media latches onto his story and turns him into a modern-day folk hero, and his rampage ultimately begins to make the powers-that-be nervous they might lose control.
The only detour the movie makes occurs shortly after the death of Bronson’s wife, when his boss sends him out to work on a development project in Tucson, AZ, to regroup. The visit to the country does serve to further the plot a smidge, but its primary purpose within the film is symbolic and metaphorical. Every part of the movie, but particularly this section, creates a dichotomy between the city and the country; the civilized and the frontier; the cowardly present, and the self-reliant bedrock on which America was built.
During this section we are graced with numerous scenes of Very Important Dialog and Action, such as a mock, old-west style gunfight in a tourist trap that proves formative for Bronson. There is also a scene in which he communes with nature, Walker, Texas Ranger-style. Towards the end of this segment, Bronson takes a trip to the gun range with a cowboy hick warrior poet who gives him the pistol he later uses to shoot thugs during his vigilante outings.
As the credits rolled, I felt content: the four dollars it took to rent the movie had not been wasted. However, I can’t pretend I got much more from the film than that.
Your mileage may vary.