Welcome to Commentary Commentary, our long-running series of articles exploring the things we can learn from the most interesting filmmaker commentaries available on DVD and Blu-ray.
Charles Bronson’s Death Wish is an iconic action/thriller, and while its sequels vary in quality and dozens of knock-offs, homages, and similarly themed vigilante movies have come along too, there’s long been whispers of a direct remake. Lots of names were attached to direct including Joe Carnahan and Aharon Keshales & Navot Papushado (Big Bad Wolves), but they all eventually fell by the wayside leaving Eli Roth to take the helm.
He’s something of a mixed bag as a director, but even when he underwhelms he’s typically an engaging speaker on commentary tracks. With his new Death Wish hitting Blu-ray/DVD this week it felt like the ideal time to give his latest track a listen despite the film itself being a fairly generic bore.
Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary track for…
Death Wish (2018)
Commentators: Eli Roth (director), Roger Birnbaum (producer)
1. The two men met during the film’s production and clicked as if they’ve been friends since childhood. That friendship remains just as strong on the day they’re recording this commentary, seventeen months later.
2. Birnbaum has been working on a “contemporary version” of Death Wish for seven years. He wanted to “turn the classic film into something that could work for today’s modern audiences.” He adds that it’s hard to get an audience’s attention and that branding is always a big help in that regard.
3. As a production executive at MGM Birnbaum’s greatest fear was getting in a rut with a single kind of film which in turn would lead to them only receiving scripts for that same kind of film. “I like movies. I like all kinds of movies. And I want to make all kinds of movies.”
4. It was a challenge setting the film in Chicago, but they got a lot of “amazing cooperation” from the Chicago Police Department.
5. They cast Elizabeth Shue because they wanted to ensure that audiences would miss her once her character gets killed.
6. Birnbaum suggested Vincent D’Onofrio after working with him on the remake of The Magnificent Seven.
7. D’Onofrio once worked as a bouncer at a bar where Bruce Willis was bartending, so they’ve known each other since they were far younger men.
8. The idea of valets working with burglars — the valet gets the owner’s address from the car and sends it to his co-criminals — was shared with them by the police who said it’s a real problem. “Not all valets of course,” adds Roth.
9. He wanted something creepy, original, and iconic for the masks worn by the home invaders, and the result was stockings with faces printed onto them.
10. Between Willis and Dean Norris, the film was at its casting limit for bald men.
11. Preview audiences apparently laugh at the scene where Kersey’s (Willis) father in law stops the car and grabs his rifle to shoot at the poachers. Roth attributes it to being a break from the preceding tension.
12. Norris is playing the Vincent Gardenia character from the original who suffered from a cold throughout. They wanted to give the new detective something to overcome too, and they settled on having him struggle with gluten intolerance.
13. “My job as the director is to tell the story from all sides,” says Roth as Kersey enters the gun shop. That’s pretty much all he has to say on the subject of how easy it is to acquire guns.
14. Roth watched “a lot of De Palma” to prep for the film’s split-screen sequences.
15. They tested Willis with the beanie Charles Bronson wears in the original before settling on a hoodie.
16. The injury to Kersey’s hand from holding the gun wrong while firing is commonly referred to as “Beretta bite.”
17. They only filmed for a single day in Chicago, but it was a thrill for Roth as his previous experience hasn’t really included proper city filming.
18. Roth highlights Kaniehtiio Horn‘s supporting performance (as he does with many in the cast), and while he doesn’t mention it I’ll add that fans should seek out last year’s Mohawk to see her in a lead role.
19. Roth’s brothers were arrested in some place called Wabans — for breakdancing — so he added a shot of Waban bake fluid as a nod to them.
20. They feel the main theme of the film is of people trying to do the right thing. (Not the bad guys, obviously.)
Best in Context-Free Commentary
“There was a lot of pizza consumed on Death Wish.”
“This is the moment that the movie gets dark.”
“This is one of my favorite acting moments from Bruce. No one else is gonna give you this. The way he knew how to just look at her, kind of roll up his head and have the tear go down at the same time. There’s no direction, you just sat at the camera and let him do his thing.”
“And now we have the introduction of Mancow!”
“Part of the fun of the movie is the audience watching him learn how to fire a gun and be bad at it.”
“The things that make him a good surgeon are also what make him a good killer.”
“I always love a good slip in the blood.”
“There’s so much shit flying around.”
“This is the classic giallo horror movie shot.”
“I love ACDC so much.”
Buy Death Wish on Blu-ray/DVD from Amazon.
Death Wish doesn’t play any better with the commentary track on, but Roth remains an engaging enough speaker on the subject of movies. He’s very complimentary of his cast and crew, and it’s clear his genre film knowledge remains strong. The pair leaves more than a few gaps in the commentary, unfortunately, but fans will want to give it a listen.