Charles Bronson is Paul Kersey, a New York architect whose wife is killed by a group of muggers ransacking their apartment, an attack that also leaves his daughter unconscious. He takes a job working for a land developer in New Mexico to get his mind off his troubles, and while there his long fascination with guns is revived when his client Ames Jainchill (Stuart Margolin) shows off his personal collection and lets him crack some shots off. He also witnesses a mock gunfight at Old Tucson, a reconstructed Western frontier town used as a movie set. Kersey soon arrives back in New York. But the streets are still filled with thugs, and Kersey knows that Manhattan is not the best place to be at night. He discovers that Jainchill has given him a .32 revolver as a present, and subsequently uses it to kill a man trying to mug him. He begins deliberately to tempt muggers, whether in an alley, on a subway train, or in a park and that he mechanically guns them down.
This made him the ‘avenging angel,’ a true phantom ‘one-man crusade.’ In the eyes of the public, Bronson became a national figure—the vigilante. “Death Wish” was a highly controversial film when initially released. At the time, major cities were facing a deadly crime epidemic, and this film tapped into the fears and unspoken desires of many viewers, giving them a chance to live out their secret fantasies. Yet, it is undeniably compelling; one of these movies that makes you wonder, “what if this happened to me?” Bronson is highly effective here; while not one of the great actors, he has a very strong screen presence. Vincent Gardenia is effective as the police detective assigned to his case. He unwillingly admires Kersey’s resolve, although he is sworn to put a stop to the killings. Rather than Bronson’s performance Death Wish has its significant themes and screenplay components which were used at almost every action/crime movie later on, thus became clichés of their genre.