Death Sentence Review
Country : USA
Running Time: 110 minutes
Distributor: Twentieth Century-Fox
Who could pick up the pieces from the late, great Charles Bronson, but Kevin Bacon. And with this tale, there's little wiggle-room regarding who's the hero and who's the villain....
Directed by James Wan. Screenplay by Ian Jeffers, based upon a previous work by Brian Garfield. Starring Kevin Bacon, Kelly Preston, Leigh Whannell, Aisha Tyler, Stuart Lafferty, Jordan Garrett and John Goodman.
Based on Brian Garfield's novel a sequel to the book that spawned the 1974 film Death Wish, James Wan's film is a middle-class white man's payback fantasy, leavened with phony references to class difference. The lead goes from pencil pusher to vigilante superhero in record time, racking up killings and personal tragedies en route to a climactic shootout that imitates elements of the Taxi Driver finale, right down to the shaved head, blown-off fingers and gushing neck wound. Is it wrong to head out and seek revenge on someone you know is an evil murderer? And if you do kill that person, does it lessen your pain in any discernible way? Or does it just cause you to sink a little deeper into the abyss? Familiar questions to the fans of the 'revenge flick' sub-genre, absolutely, but what's interesting about Death Sentence is how it bounces from straight action to strangely effective melodrama to a stone-faced character study of a normal man who is forced to go primal.
Kevin Bacon stars as the father of two sons and his beautiful wife is played by Kelly Preston. The oldest son is showing much promise as a hockey player, and they seem like a happy family. One night on the way home from a hockey game, they stop by a gas station in a bad part of town. On the way there, the son tells his dad that he wants to go to college in Canada and play hockey. While Bacon is outside pumping gas and leaving an eerily prophetic voicemail to his wife about how their son is going to Canada and they will never see him again, some gang members rob the store. Bacon's son is murdered in what was a gang initiation where the "pledge" must kill some random person in order to become part of the gang.
The movie itself feels like an anachronism, thanks to Wan's low-budget shooting style that clearly emulates the look of a 70s-era action movie with its thick grain, blue hue and washed out palette. Wan turns the hero from an architect into an insurance executive, suggesting a shift towards corporatism over personal self-creation. He also bookends the story nicely with images of Nick before and after his ordeal. Yet, from a purely practical perspective, the movie is one brutal act of violence after another. Depending on how much you enjoy seeing someone's leg blown off by a shotgun blast, Death Sentence will either enthrall or bore you to tears. I was enthralled.
Bacon's performance in the lead is the best thing about Death Sentence. He brings a vulnerability to Nick that Bronson never possessed and he really sells the idea of paternal devotion, but he can't create scenes by himself. Nor can he fill in the thematic blanks left in Wan's wake. One of the most compelling features Bacon buying an arsenal from a black-market gun dealer portrayed by John Goodman.
Overall Death Sentence is a sobering revenge movie with compelling emotions and performances. It is one of James Wan's best efforts, although it's strictly for fans of this genre.
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Review by John Gray, for Pitofhorror.com