Eli Roth’s ‘Death Wish’ Remake Casts Lead Villain

death wish remake villain

Eli Roth‘s Death Wish remake has cast Beau Knapp as the film’s lead villain… which is a sentence that actually speaks volumes about the kind of movie the new Death Wish will be. After all, Michael Winner’s original didn’t have a a lead villain, a choice that, by design, makes it one of the more disturbing revenge movies ever made. Let’s talk about this.

But first, let’s plow through the new stuff. Deadline reported the news of Knapp joining the project, describing his character as the “main adversary” to Paul Kersey, who will be played by Bruce Willis. The set-up of the new film is identical to the 1974 film: Kersey is an ordinary family man whose family is assaulted in their home by a gang of criminals. In the original, his wife is killed and his daughter hospitalized. Traumatized by the event, Kersey buys himself a gun and hits the streets of New York, seeking justice and violent satisfaction.

You may not know Knapp’s name, but you’ve probably seen him in something by now. He had a memorable role as a lead henchman in this year’s fantastic The Nice Guys, but his other credits include Super 8, The Gift, Southpaw, and The Signal. He’ll also be seen later this year in Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. He’s keeping busy! And his youth (he was born in 1989) will contrast nicely with the older and generally more craggy Bruce Willis.

But let’s dwell for a moment on what it means when you give Death Wish a lead villain of any kind. Michael Winner’s film is a nasty piece of work, a genuinely unsettling and dirty and loathsome movie that is frequently off-putting and will make any 2016 viewer feel unclean just by laying their eyes on it. In that film, Paul Kersey (played by Charles Bronson) never finds the men who assaulted his family and he never actively seeks them out. He simply buys a pistol, wanders into the bad neighborhoods, and opens fire whenever someone makes a move against him. He’s not seeking personal revenge as much as he wants to take his anger out on the world in general. And it’s no accident that this wealthy white guy is shooting up poor neighborhood inhabited mostly by people of color (all of whom are presented as disgusting stereotypes). It’s very much a horror movie, especially when viewed in the context of this year.

Death Wish is an artifact of an earlier time and it’s an ugly time at the movies crafted by lunatics. This is also why it’s so damn fascinating and why it’s a movie I’ve seen several times and love talking about. It’s sequels actually double down on this ugliness – Death Wish 3 may be the meanest, nastiest, most world-hating action movie every made.

And while I would expect to see a director as deranged as Eli Roth make a Death Wish movie in this vein, it’s hard to imagine a studio backing a project like that and it’s even harder to imagine someone like Bruce Willis signing on to star in it. The mere fact that the remake has a lead villain, someone for Kersey to hunt down and confront in the climax, means that we’re probably getting a standard vigilante revenge film. And considering the skin-crawling nature of the original, that may be for the best.

Death Wish also stars Vincent D’Onofrio, Elisabeth Shue, Dean Norris, and Mike Epps and will open in 2017.

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