Bronson One Last Time: Death Wish V: The Face of Death (1994, directed by Allen Goldstein)


To quote Geoffrey Chaucer, “All good things must come to an end.”

Death Wish V: The Face of Death marked the end of the original Death Wish franchise, concluding the violent saga of Paul Kersey 20 years after it began.  It probably should have ended sooner.

After the box office failure of Death Wish IV and the subsequent bankruptcy of Cannon Films, future plans for the Death Wish franchise were put on hold.  After the collapse of Cannon, Menahem Golan started a new production company, 21st Century Film Corporation.  In 1993, needing a hit and seeing that the previous Death Wish films were still popular on video, Golan announced that Paul Kersey would finally return in Death Wish V: The Face of Death.  Charles Bronson also returned, though he was now 72 years old and in poor health.  Death Wish V would also mark the end of Bronson’s feature film career.  He would make appearances in a few television movies before subsequently retiring from acting.

Death Wish V finds Paul in the witness protection program.  His latest girlfriend, Olivia (Lesley-Anne Down), just happens to be the ex-wife of a psychotic mobster named Tommy O’Shea (Michael Parks).  Throughout the entire franchise, the Death Wish films argued that crime is so out of control that no one was safe and that Paul had no choice but to pick up a gun and shoot muggers.  But, judging from Death Wish V, Paul just seems to have incredibly bad luck.  What are the odds that a mild-mannered architect would lose his wife, his maid, his daughter, his best friend from the war, his next two girlfriends, and then end up dating the ex-wife of New York City’s craziest gangster?

The district attorney’s office wants Olivia to testify against her ex-husband so Tommy gets his henchman, the dandruff-prone Freddie Flakes (Robert Joy), to kill her.  Looks like it’s time for New York’s favorite vigilante to launch a one-man war against the Mafia!

The only problem is that New York’s favorite vigilante is too old to chase people down dark alleys and shoot them.  He has to get creative, which means using everything from poisoned cannoli to a vat of acid to take out his targets.  One gangster is killed by an exploding soccer ball!

With both Bronson and Lesley-Anne Down giving an indifferent performances, it is up to the supporting cast to keep the movie interesting.  Appearing here after his bravura turn as Jean Renault in Twin Peaks but before Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino introduced him to a whole new generation of filmgoers, Michael Parks is flamboyantly evil as Tommy O’Shea and injects the movie with what little life that it has.  Speaking of Twin Peaks alumni, Kenneth Welsh (who played Windom Earle in the last few episodes of season 2) plays this installment’s understanding police detective.  Saul Rubinek plays the district attorney who is willing to look the other way when it comes to killing gangsters.

Dull and cheap-looking, Death Wish V was a box office bomb and it brought the original franchise to a definite end.  Will the Eli Roth/Bruce Willis reboot of Death Wish also lead to a reboot of the franchise?  Time will tell!

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Atlantic City (dir by Louis Malle)


(With the Oscars scheduled to be awarded on March 4th, I have decided to review at least one Oscar-nominated film a day.  These films could be nominees or they could be winners.  They could be from this year’s Oscars or they could be a previous year’s nominee!  We’ll see how things play out.  Today, I take a look at the 1981 best picture nominee, Atlantic City!)

Welcome to Atlantic City, New Jersey!

It’s a city with a storied past and an uncertain future.  It’s a place where old men on street corners can tell you stories about meeting Bugsy Siegel in the lobby of an old hotel that’s just been demolished.  The decrepit remains of old Atlantic City co-exists next to half-completed luxury casinos and hotels.  It’s a place where business deals are celebrated in the Frank Sinatra Suite and where a woman trying to make a very important phone call might find herself being serenaded by Robert Goulet.

It’s also the home of Lou (Burt Lancaster).  From the minute we first see Lou, it’s obvious that he’s a man past his time.  He walks up and down the worst streets of Atlantic City, dressed in a gray suit and trench coat.  With his white mustache and his coolly professional manner, he looks like he belongs in an old movie and not hanging out in his shabby apartment or drinking in the local bar.  When Lou was younger, he was acquainted with all of the big names: Siegel, Luciano, Costello, Lansky.  Of course, he wasn’t ever much of a mobster.  He used to run numbers.  If pressed, he’ll tell some interesting stories but it’s not difficult to tell that he’s lying.  (At one point, it’s mentioned that Lou’s Mafia nickname was Numbnut.)  Now, Lou is an old man.  Much like a condemned Atlantic City hotel, he’ll soon be due for demolition.  He spends most of his time taking care of Grace (Kate Reid), the widow of a mobster.  When he’s not responding to Grace’s demands, he watches his neighbor, Sally (Susan Sarandon).

Sally is originally from Canada.  She came to America looking for a better life and ended up working as a waitress.  Under the strict tutelage of Joseph (Michel Piccoli), Sally is learning how to be a blackjack dealer.  Someday, she hopes that she’ll be able to move out of her apartment and into a communal house on the beach.  Until then, she works hard every day and then returns to her apartment, little realizing that she’s being watched by Lou.

And then David shows up.

David (played by Canadian character actor Robert Joy) is Sally’s estranged husband.  Sally knows that David can’t be trusted but she reluctantly allows him and his pregnant girlfriend (Hollis McLaren) to stay with her for a few days.  David has stolen a large amount of cocaine from the Philadelphia mob.  David wants to sell it but he quickly discovers that no one in Atlantic City is willing to deal with someone who they don’t know.  Fortunately, for David, he runs into Lou.  Lou, looking for a chance to be a real gangster and also wanting a chance to get closer to Sally, agrees to help David sell the cocaine.  Unfortunately, for David, two hit men from Philadelphia have traced him to Atlantic City and are determined to not only get their cocaine back but to also kill David as well.

It may sound like the set up for a standard crime thriller but Atlantic City is actually a thoughtful meditation on getting older, falling in love, and dealing with the fact that things change.  Lou is a relic of the past, looking for one last chance to make his mark before, like the older buildings on the boardwalk, he’s demolished and forgotten about.  Sally and David are the dreamers, hoping to build a future in America.

Louis Malle directs at a leisurely pace.  Those looking for a hyperkinetic gangster film will be disappointed.  There’s only two acts of violence in Atlantic City and Malle presents both of them in a low-key, matter-of-fact fashion.  Instead, Malle focuses on exploring the lives and dreams of the film’s characters and Burt Lancaster rewards that attention with an absolutely outstanding performance as a dignified man who knows his best days are behind him but who still refuses to give in to defeat.  It’s one of Lancaster’s best performances and he was rewarded with an Oscar nomination for best actor.

Atlantic City was nominated for best picture but lost to Chariots of Fire.