‘Death Sentence’ *** Movie Review 101907  

The Work = ***
‘Death Sentence’ is a grim little revenge flic’ from ‘Saw’ writer/ director James Wan that works as a fun throw back to 70s revenge films such as ‘Death Wish’. This shouldn’t be too much of a surprise since ‘Death Sentence’ is based on a Brian Garfield novel that was a sequel to his novel ‘Death Wish’. I say the film is “fun” but really only if you are in the mood for this sort of thing. For those that are this one is recommended.

Let me just say that you will have to “drink the Kool-aid” to finish the film satisfied. What do I mean? Well, you have to buy some pretty big leaps that Wan and company take. Look at a central turning point for Nick Hume (Kevin Bacon) as an example. Without giving much away, I will just say that Hume is a witness at an evidentiary hearing for a criminal he desperately wants to see jailed. Before the hearing he is told the most he can hope the criminal will get is a few years (much shorter than the life sentence Hume was hoping for). Knowing this, what does Hume decide? To try and convince his attorney to press for a longer sentence? Nope, he decides to lie at the hearing so the guy gets off and settle things up outside of law.

Right, just what any citizen would do. For a certain type of character that would seem like a logical step but it is one that seems like a bit of a leap for the white collar, order-based, Hume. Of course while watching ‘Death Sentence’ that stretch seems like nothing compared to one such as Hume disarming and knocking out an armed gunman completely by accident. Fortunately, ‘Death Sentence’ moves at a quick enough pace that such ridiculous moments pass by in a flash.

Speaking of ridiculous, Wan creates a comic book world for his film that never once could be mistaken for the real world. The plot revolves around a tit for tat escalation of violence between Hume and a violent gang. The “gang” would never be confused with a real gang but that is part of the fun of the film. There is a dark bit of humor peppered throughout the feature that occasionally pokes through (especially when John Goodman is onscreen) and the humorous moments help to counter the rather grim nature of the film.

What really helps to carry ‘Death Sentence’ is none other than Kevin Bacon as Hume. Underrated and often in films that don’t get the recognition or box office they deserve, Bacon continues to give strong performances regardless of the qualities of the films he appears in. Casting Bacon in the role was a bit of sly genius as at the beginning of the film Hume is a loving and caring father; an upper middleclass, white guy, who is glowing with pride in his eldest son. As the film runs its course Hume will become as deranged and sadistic as those he hates. That Bacon is able to play both sides so well is part of what makes him a key element to the film (and an underrated actor). He is someone that is easy to empathize with even as he heads down his dark road of destruction.

When I mentioned that the film is a bit of a throwback to 70s revenge flic, I meant it, and what the film also has going for it is some teeth. As I said earlier, the film is a grim one and Hume’s actions carry sever consequences. For all of its silliness, the film has some guts when it comes to dolling out the results of Hume’s aggressions towards the gang. Garrett Hedlund, a talented, young actor (who is also quite good as the youngest brother in ‘Four Brothers’) is effective as the violent, ill-tempered gang leader Billy. Following Hume on his journey I was certainly routing for Billy to go down and if nothing else I can say he made for an effective villain.

‘Death Sentence’ went in and out of theaters in the blink of an eye which is a shame since despite some faults it is worth seeing. The critical reception was as weak if not weaker than the box office (although there are exceptions, Roger Ebert liked it (his review HERE) and Duncan Stripp (his review HERE) of the great site DVDTimes liked it as well). Sure, you have to be looking for a grim, actiony’, ride and you have to stick through some silly moments but for me it was worth the ride and I think 'Death Sentence' is worth seeing if you are so inclined. Hedlund, Goodman and especially Bacon are all good in the film and Wan shows what ‘Saw’ hinted at; he is a multi-talented director that will hopefully be making films for a good while now. Recommended.


‘Death Sentence’ Links:


Roger Ebert's Review

Duncan Stripp's review at DVDTimes

My review of the classic revenge flic' 'Rolling Thunder'

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