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Overall Rating

Awesome: 13.33%
Worth A Look48.89%
Average: 17.78%
Pretty Bad: 4.44%
Total Crap: 15.56%

4 reviews, 21 user ratings

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Death Sentence
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by Erik Childress

"There's Never A Bacon Around Until You Need One."
4 stars

Revenge has been a staple of the B-picture going back to the time when western double features would present the lawlessness of the Old West where the Gods of justice wouldnít mind two men settling their differences in the middle of a dusty street. Death Wish may always be the staple to which modern justice seekers refer to when acknowledging the breakdown of a system in the midst of urban chaos. Now itís 2007 and in just over a month we have been given our choice between a trio of revenge-themed pictures. One called Descent with Rosario Dawson seeking out her rapist only made it into a few theaters. Another wonít be opening for a few more weeks, also featuring a woman (Jodie Foster), in a more high-falutiní take on the genre. Smackdab in the middle is Death Sentence, based on a novel by the original Death Wish author (in fact itís a sequel to that book) and directed by James Wan who helped bring a different kind of poetic justice to the screen with the Saw series. Despite such a simple and overcooked premise for a film, this has more going for it than either of those other films; a solidly made thriller with a central performance from Kevin Bacon that is better than any of its kind.

Bacon plays Nick Hume whom as we see in the quietly effective credit sequence presented through home videos, is a happy family man with a wife (Kelly Preston) and two teenage boys (Stuart Lafferty & Jordan Garrett). His eldest plays on the high school hockey team and is already making plans for college, plans that are quickly broken when a gas station stop turns into the makings of a gang initiation. In brutal fashion, the boy is slain, but Nick gets a good look at the newbie left behind and gets him arrested. Just as Nick thinks he has the kid put away for good though he finds that lack of evidence will only lock him up for a few years at best. No father could live with that, so he refuses to testify and goes home to look through his shed for sharp objects.

Taking things further than even his emotional instincts prepared him for, he finds that heís not the only one with a family. The punkís brother, Billy (Garrett Hedlund), leader of the gang, plots his own revenge and threatens to kill his wife and remaining child, who believes his ranking as the second son may be more than just genealogy. In desperation, Nick turns to the lead detective on his kidís murder (Aisha Tyler) who is no dummy to what the circumstances suggest. ďYou start a war with the wrong dog?,Ē she asks in a series of bad dialogue moments that seem to occur whenever sheís in the room. Nick increasingly knows the answer to that question as these unflinching bastards inch closer and closer into his idyllic existence.

Death Sentence may not have anything new to say about self-fulfilling vengeance. In fact, when it does speak openly on the subject it usually hits an overly obvious tone that will get eyes rolling Ė again usually coming courtesy of Tylerís cop at the worst times. A final sit-down between Nick & Billy also takes things one step too far when ďLook at youĒ would have sufficed. Why the film works as well as it does past levels of mere exploitation (although itís well aware of where it comes from) is the level of raw emotion that it coasts on. The initial slaying is so savage and serves such a meaningless purpose that itís impossible not to identify with a man who has lost so much for so little. Although Nick may never have heard to never flash your lights at a dark car, the film thankfully doesnít spend time on placing needless blame and guilty consciences on the innocents involved in a star-crossed tragedy.

There are two stars to Death Sentence indeed though and they are equally responsible for classing up what is basically an A-list grindhouse picture. In the same way that Quentin Tarantino and Kurt Russell elevated Death Proof, James Wan and Kevin Bacon go beyond what would have been satisfactory to crowds craving a good bloodletting. Wan, in particular, who many may rather see flogged for being co-responsible for the Saw series, is beginning to deliver what fans of the trendsetting original witnessed past the gore and twists. There was style to Saw. Not intrusive style that took center stage but something that gave it a flair that separated it from the usual horror pastiche. In Death Sentence, Wan takes it three steps further knowing when to keep the film in motion and when to back off and let the performances and emotion dominate. One of the best action sequences you will see all year takes place right in the middle of Death Sentence; a literal breathless chase through the streets, backalleys and ultimately a parking garage that sparks off a tremendous mano-a-mano that is more real and entertaining than anything youíll find in the Rush Hour series or Jet Liís U.S. catalog. This is a FIGHT without rules or style (even aping one fantastically nasty moment from Lethal Weapon 2) and is the culmination of a seemingly endless pursuit that, dare I say it, plays like a baby cousin to Alfonso Cuaronís action in Children of Men.

The other star, of course, is the one whose name should be above the title. Kevin Bacon is too good an actor to be looking at a project like Death Sentence as a quick paycheck. If that was any part of the motivation for taking the part, Bacon earns it and puts in overtime on holidays. Itís disheartening to think that some may believe a film like this doesnít deserve a performance this good, but anyway Bacon can be praised he should. Sure, he does get the classic slow-look-of-menace towards the camera signaling ďeverything has changedĒ late in the film but both he and the film have earned it at that point having dedicated much of the time in-between the punk bastards to silent grief (occasionally bolstered by a melancholy score or song) and wrenching paranoia, all expertly handled by Baconís everyman intensity. Sounds like an anamoly, but Bronson was only capable of handling one part of that load.

Death Sentence doesnít exist to kickstart the debate on vigilantism and that works in its favor. We can apply all sorts of gun lover fantasies to the preparation for its finale; a prelude to war that adds the nice touches of bullet fumbling and instruction manuals. Thanks to Baconís performance though, we can classify it as more than just an action picture. Stomach-churning and wince-inducing at times, Death Sentence is both a blood pumper and a shocker all at once and itís a wonder why Fox Studios chose to withhold screenings for as long as it did. It may certainly not be everyoneís bloody cup of tea, but it has no pretentions of being anything but a raw and violent revenge drama Ė something that canít be said for another movie in a few weeks. Whomever may be unhappy with Mr. Wan for the Saw series (and the less said about Dead Silence the better), James can take comfort tonight in that at least this critic believes he has beaten Neil Jordan at his own game.

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originally posted: 08/31/07 14:00:00
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User Comments

9/22/17 morris campbell raw & real but flawed 4 stars
10/28/08 Sugarfoot Blood thirsty Death Wish clone, and I loved it. Call it a guilty pleasure. 4 stars
10/26/08 Shaun Wallner Thought this was a good film. 4 stars
2/14/08 Ben One of the very few GREAT action/suspense movies that come along every year! 5 stars
2/03/08 mr.mike Bacon is great but it goes way off track once it veers into "Taxi Driver" zone. 3 stars
1/29/08 mike freakin awesome 5 stars
1/24/08 Double M Standard hollywood revenge flick w. stretches of logic aided by Bacon and good action. 7/10 4 stars
1/20/08 John Unrelenting and true to form. 5 stars
1/20/08 gcc The best revenge movie since death wish-great directing and acting too 4 stars
1/10/08 action movie fan good exciting death wish themed action revenge movie 4 stars
1/09/08 matthew A great intense thriller, flawed but well made. John Goodman almost steals it 4 stars
12/18/07 Plowdal The perfect "with guns" revenge movie. Everything was good: acting,cinematogr,script,action 5 stars
12/06/07 Bnorm I thought it was pretty good...definitely didnt get the attention it deserved 4 stars
9/22/07 san this was an awesome movie that didnt really get the play that it should have 5 stars
9/09/07 Russ Not bad.... 3 stars
9/07/07 Kremer Hated Saw, loved this despite having to suspend my disbelief 4 stars
9/05/07 ben dover fuck you all fucking great movie kill some homeboys 5 stars
9/03/07 jazz Yeah...this was a "meh"-fest all the way. Pretty awful in parts. OK, at best, in others. 2 stars
9/02/07 jcjs33 so so, nothing came out Labor Day week..lots of gray hairs in theater?..worst i've seen2007 2 stars
9/01/07 justin gripping and emotional drama with outstanding performances 4 stars
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  31-Aug-2007 (R)
  DVD: 08-Jan-2008

  31-Aug-2007 (18)

  N/A (MA)

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