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Paul Kersey, LA architect and part-time vigilante, is fed up with violence and wants a quiet life. However, when friend's daughter dies of overdose, he has no choice but to go to war on drug dealers. Written by
Dragan Antulov <email@example.com>
The Death Wish films strongly follow a formula that was set by the first film: Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson), an easygoing architect either in New York City or Los Angeles, at some point with a female significant other and usually some kind of daughter figure, experiences violence towards his loved ones by anarchic gangs. The violence often involves rapes, severe beatings and murders. Fed up, especially since law enforcement can't take care of the problem very efficiently, he goes into a vigilante mode and starts racking up dead punks. He takes on an alternate identity and utilizes impressive armories, all while remaining suave and easygoing. Meanwhile, law enforcement tends to play under-the-table games with him, since the public tends to be sympathetic with vigilantes taking scum off the streets and the police realize that the vigilante can circumvent the system and do the job with no bureaucratic hassles.
Death Wish 4: The Crackdown is no exception to using this formula. But new writer Gail Morgan Hickman and new director J. Lee Thompson use the formula in a very creative way for fans of the series--they let it ride along implicitly and then play with our expectations based on it. (By the way, Thompson was new to the Death Wish series, but he had directed Bronson six times previously, beginning with St. Ives (1976), then in The White Buffalo (1977), Caboblanco (1980), 10 to Midnight (1983), The Evil That Men Do (1984), and Murphy's Law (1986). They later went on to work together in Messenger of Death (1988) and Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects (1989).)
So we begin with a typical Death Wish scene--an attractive woman ambushed in a lonely parking garage by three thugs and raped, only to be interrupted by Kersey bearing high velocity leaden gifts. But it turns out to be an opening out of A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) instead, as Kersey was simply dreaming. Awake, he gets on with his architectural life. We see him with a serious girlfriend who has a daughter, and we figure it spells trouble for their wellbeing. It does, but the trouble begins abruptly, in an unexpected way.
And then, after briefly flirting with the usual Death Wish route of Kersey hitting the streets and seeing what the punks look like for himself so he can mop up the gutters with them, Hickman and Thompson make a left turn, and Death Wish 4 has Kersey functioning something like a mob hit-man instead. He has a mysterious benefactor feeding him with information on crime bigwigs instead of piddly gang members, and in an echo of Death Wish 3, he effectively enters a guerrilla war with them, only this time Kersey has no help; he's a one-man army. Thompson continues to play with our expectations in many ways, including a fairly shocking occurrence near the end of the film (after a very fun scene in a roller disco).
In addition to the clever meta-level stuff, the set-up of the film results in it basically being a series of action vigilante/hit-man set pieces. There are still a number of stories threaded throughout to provide unity, but the set pieces have all of the creativity, uniqueness and thrill of going through the various levels of a great contemporary video game. It wouldn't be surprising if Death Wish 4 were one of the inspirations for a modern game or two (even though the film isn't exactly kind to video games--again, see the roller disco scene).
On the forest level, Death Wish 4 certainly isn't unpredictable, although on the trees level it very often is. But that's not needed in a Death Wish film, anyway. The basic requirement is for Bronson to be able to kick butt in entertaining and suspenseful ways, and Thompson gives you as much or more bang for your buck on that end as any other film in the series.
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