Death Wish (1974)
Succeeded by: Death Wish II (1982)
The quintessential vigilante movie was more or less born out of necessity – when Brian Garfield's novel came out in 1972 and this subsequent adaptation appeared in 1974, New York City had just seen a spike in crime which made it one of the most dangerous cities in the United States. And with the majority of the film shot on location in NYC, Death Wish comes off as having an instant proximity to the material it presents. The violence brought upon Paul Kersey's family is provoking, ugly and finite. Director Michael Winner shoots it with no regard for our sensitivity or the actors' vanity. It's the sort of grittiness that can bring out the vigilante in even the most desensitized viewer. The movie then takes its time building Kersey's psychological profile, with agreeable pacing, a chic jazzy score by Herbie Hancock, and a riveting depiction of Kersey's transformation from a bleeding-heart liberal to a ruthless right-wing vigilante. So painstaking and well-measured is this build-up that when his killing spree begins, you itch for it and welcome his release. Bronson's meek appearance and calm demeanour makes his smouldering anger more real in a way. And the film's crisp cinematography and attention to detail, sometimes morbidly humorous detail, adds to its lasting appeal. So does Jeff Goldblum's scene-stealing debut appearance. Followed by no less than four sequels, all vastly inferior to the original.