Jaq's Review: Death Sentence - When Good Films Go Bad

September 2, 2007

When I go see a Kevin Bacon film, I have come to expect a certain level of quality. Like anything else, most people have expectations when they walk into a film. You've seen the trailers and noted the actors and based on those things, there is a certain implied contract between the film and the audience. This is why Adam Sandler or Mike Myers rarely work when cast in a serious film. So when I went to see the new revenge thriller Death Sentence, I expected a thought provoking film, one which ruminated on the topics of death and revenge. And for the first 30 minutes or so, that's exactly what I got.

Kevin Bacon plays Nick Hume, a risk assessment manager at a large, upscale insurance firm who, on the way home from a hockey game with his son, stops for gas in a seedy part of town. Very quickly things fall apart as a gang of street thugs burst into the gas station's convenience store and proceed to slash the throat of Hume's eldest as part of a gang initiation. The boy dies and Hume wants the killer, who's been caught and identified, put away forever. When things go awry in the courtroom and the kid walks, Hume decides he must do something about it. But he doesn't know what that is and it's in these types of morally conflicted roles where Bacon thrives. We can see the pain and anguish of losing a child in his eyes. Through him we see how he must gingerly maintain his relationship with his wife (Kelly Preston). We even get a glimpse of how he must hide his intentions from his second son (played heart-wrenchingly well by Jordan Garrett), the one who didn't die. As we watch, Bacon transforms Hume into a man trying to get some sense of identity back. When his son was killed, he lost the role of father, of family protector.

Kevin Bacon loads up his .357 Magnum for one final revenge-fueled attack in Death Sentence.Death Sentence Review

He heads out to confront the killer and in the ensuing fight, quite unintentionally, Hume stabs and fatally wounds the man who took his son's life. I say unintentionally because of the way Hume reacts. It appears that what was intended as a balance measure, a biblical "eye for an eye" retribution, falls on Hume with all the weight of human misery. He has taken a life and it is a real, painful thing. This realization hits home while Hume is in the shower and, in a wordless moment, Bacon shows why he is one of the finest actors of his generation.

And then the film begins to unravel. Director James Wan, the man behind Saw, reverts to his fallback position, that of simple revenge plot. This is fine for a generation raised on Grand Theft Auto, but for the older audience, it is an unfulfilled promise. What started out as a grim, realistic portrayal, devolves, by the end of almost two hours into a film with unintentional laughter and a main character who has become a parody of Charles Bronson in Death Wish (which, ironically, was the prequel to the book by Brian Garfield this film is based on). The only upswing in this downfall is a scene with John Goodman as an illegal gun dealer. In it, we get another view of fatherhood and the responsibilities inherent therein.

So, by the time all is said and done, we've gotten some top notch performances (the sole exception being Aisha Tyler who is given very little in the way of good dialogue to work with and really is just outclassed as a dramatic actress) and a solid start, but with a director unsure of himself, the end result is like having too many cooks in the kitchen – sure there's a meal coming, but is it really something you want to eat?

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I was disappointed at this film. Yes some of the deaths were inventive but I wonder when we will get a revenge film where, even if the person seeking justice is a normal citizen, actually portrays the anger and loss felt when exacting his revenge. Films seem to either be at one end like the Punisher when the revenge is glibbly done or at this end where it's done reluctant. Call me a psychopath but I want to see a film where someone loses someone very dear to them, loses control and when they come to exact their revenge take pleasure in making the offender reap the whirlwind for their atrocity. I want to see rage and wounded anger in the face of the normal citizen driven to take the law into his own hands.

Payne by name on Sep 3, 2007


I disagree with your opinion, but I respect it. This is where no one agrees with me but everyone can see where I'm coming from. Think about some of the revenge movies that you seen. Kill Bill, The Punisher (Dolph's of course), Man on Fire... then think about how many went far. Kill Bill, no matter how fantastic it is, didn't push the envelope. The Punisher, still a fun and fantastic action flick for this day of age, just kills whoever it wants. Man on Fire has without a doubt one of the saddest finales in a movie that I've ever seen, but then Death Sentence comes along and swoops it off it's feet. Death Sentence pushes the envelope... IT PUTS A BULLET THROUGH A KID'S HEAD AND SAYS "YEAH I DID THAT. IF YOU DON'T LIKE IT, BITE ME." Death Sentence doesn't kill anyone it wants. It puts a bounty on whoever is involved. That is all I ask. Death Sentence has one of the saddest scenes in the movie, by what you said of Kevin Bacon's extraordinary acting.

Tony DeFrancisco on Oct 6, 2007

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