stallone's death wish

IGN has an article on Stallone’s interest in remaking Death Wish, chock-full of quotes from the man himself.

You’ll recall the original film, which starred Charles Bronson as a peaceful man who, after his wife’s murder and daughter’s rape at the hands of intruders in their apartment, buys a gun and takes to stalking New York’s street. It had an element of exploitation, of course, but the story was notable in that it presented a rather disturbing moral dilemma: is Paul Kersey heroic for turning to violent vigilantism or has he crossed the line into becoming what he despises? Critically, it’s the viewer’s reaction that is tested, since as much as we want to support Kersey in his efforts to clean up, there is something questionable about the almost casual use of violence.

I haven’t read the novel by Brian Garfield that inspired the film, although it’s worth noting that “Garfield was also unhappy with the final product, calling the film 'incendiary', and even stated that each of the following sequels are all pointless and rancid, since they all depart to the advocation of vigilantism to what the novels are against.”

I agree about the sequels, but think the first and unquestionably the best film in the series had enough nuance to make it provocative and challenging rather than merely sensationalistic. So when IGN reports that “Stallone explained that his interpretation of the story would be deeper and more complex. ‘There's moral questions here that are being presented that have not been answered in 30 years. So by no means is it the pacifist [origin of the original],’” I can’t help but be a little skeptical.

"I think Death Wish, if it were done today, would be volcanic," Stallone said. "The idea of Jeff Goldblum being a mugger who breaks into an apartment is very simplistic. It gives you an idea how bad the elevation of violence has become. I would focus on defense attorneys, I would focus on [the people] allowing this crap to happen -- not so much the guy on the street. It's like, 'Who permits it?'

"What if it happened to you, that your daughter was grabbed and her eyes were put out? Would you want to sit there and defend that guy?"

Other than the fact that Stallone seems to have missed the recent spate of revenge thrillers, like The Brave One and Death Sentence (another film based on a novel by Brian Garfield), I can’t say that Stallone is displaying any sophisticated understanding of either Garfield’s story or the moral issues at stake. While it may be arguably true that violence has escalated (I question it, but I’ll grant it for argument’s sake), to ask – however rhetorically – if you’d want to defend a guy that did something horrible to you or a loved one is to miss entirely the point of the justice system. It’s worth reading that quote again: “I would focus on defense attorneys, I would focus on [the people] allowing this crap to happen -- not so much the guy on the street.” Maybe Stallone isn’t really implying that defense attorneys are “allowing this crap to happen,” but when he asks “Who permits it?” it doesn’t create any confidence that he has enough of a grasp of the story to deliver a “deeper and more complex” interpretation. After all, no one “permits” crime: that’s why it’s a crime. And the justice system exists to determine guilt or innocence, resting on the premise of presumed innocence.

If Stallone does go through with re-imagining Death Wish, perhaps he’ll come up with something surprisingly sophisticated instead of yet another cheap revenge thriller masquerading as moral philosophy. But considering that his vision changes the main character from a quasi-pacifist-turned-vigilante to an ex-convict returning to his violent nature after a traumatic incident (didn’t I just see this kind of character on “Criminal Minds” this week?, expectations are low.

No comments: