This is unapologetic male revenge fantasy, made all the more powerful and terrifying by how gritty and realistic it is portrayed.
The character of Paul Kersey is not the sort of man you expect to see played by Charles Bronson, at first that is. He’s a quiet architect whose politics definitely lean toward the anti-gun side of the fence, but that all changes when he is befriended by an Arizona “gun nut” who gifts him with his first revolver.
That gift would have been much more innocuous had Kersey’s wife and daughter not just been raped and (the wife) murdered a few weeks prior. Now with too much time left to think, Kersey brashly strikes out and begins a series of cat and mouse like games to lure New York muggers to their demise.
This is a deeply troubling movie, but also a very well made one. Bronson was a very underrated actor, and here he gets to show off a little of that, playing a man whose entire worldview changes in the course of a personal tragedy.
He’s of course up to snuff with the action scenes, and there is a perverse joy in seeing Mr. Bronson send random thugs to their just desserts. It is that “perverse joy” that inspired the four sequels which this movie would have.
However, this first installment was more than just a paint by numbers revenge flick, it is a dark and intriguing look into New York City and how it was perceived in the mid 1970s, and a disturbing character study on top of that.
Death Wish gets a three out of five: GOOD.