REVIEW: Death Sentence [2007]

“Welcome to hell”

Unrelenting and uncompromising. That is all you need to know about James Wan’s new film Death Sentence. This is a tale of revenge and retribution for the death of a man’s son at the hands of a gang initiation. Taking the law into his own hands, Nick Hume, a father lost in the world, starts a war that he is not ready for. You can’t even out an equation when a person’s life is on the other side; the guilt of killing is just too much to bear when scaled by the feeling of vengeance. A person’s emotions can be the sole cause of his unraveling, but when you add in the homicidal tendencies of kids, whose love for each other is too great when you think of their blatant disregard for life, external circumstances can help you hit bottom even faster. What you see in the trailer is only the surface of what Wan delivers onscreen. The body count is high and the characters that are expendable are not the ones you would expect in standard Hollywoodfare. Whether you credit the novel’s author Brian Garfield for his willingness to be as dark as life truly is or Wan for the courage to stay away from the sunny side of things as most producers would require a director to do in order to turn a profit, Death Sentence is a fantastic gem of a film. The pedal is on the floor for its entire duration, surprises abound, the carnage is uncensored, and the story is taut and intelligent, something that you might not expect with all the rest.

Wan is definitely proving to me that Saw was no one hit wonder. No matter what your opinion of parts 2 and 3, the original literally started a trend in horror with its brand of torture porn. Everything you expected from a genre film was turned up to full blast, and, despite some hammy acting, really came out and kicked butt. This film is not his follow up, however, that one was the film Dead Silence, his first entry of the year. I have not caught it yet, but the immense enjoyment I had with his third piece has definitely increased my interest in doing so. One thing is for sure, he knows what he wants to put on film and he does so quickly. The Saw movies are known for their quick turnaround, and the fact that he completed two full-length features just this year proves his efficiency. This movie is not shot straight forward either, Wan leaves his mark throughout with some nice touches of flare. Between some cool angles, our antihero walking out of work with the camera framed at an angle so that his office building is fully shown horizontally, sequences merging multiple viewpoints like the cat and mouse game towards the end, along with his careful framing inside the very hole his lead shoots out in the wall, to, what I believe was, a single long take following our lead and his enemies as they go floor by floor of a parking garage. I can’t remember a break in the action from when we enter to when we get to the top, whether that’s my eyes being sharp or my being totally on the edge of my seat and oblivious to the finer points of film technique, I don’t know. Either way it was an impressive moment.

Yes, the acting is pretty good here as well—let’s not give all the credit to Wan. Kevin Bacon proves once again that he can branch out and do almost anything asked of him. Unfortunately he rarely gets that opportunity. The emotions are there and his transformation is completely believable during the course of the story. We are treated with a montage of family videos during the opening credits in order to get acquainted with our cast. Because of this, we start off knowing the love that holds these people together. That bond is what makes what happens later plausible and so heartbreaking. Bacon never misses a step throughout the full metamorphosis. Everyone else is good in their respective roles, but none really stick out as special. That is actually a compliment, because they are basically pawns in the game between our leads and by staying that way they help us focus on what is important rather than take our attention away from the prize. Worthy of notice, though, are Garrett Hedlund and John Goodman. Hedlund is a welcome surprise as the psychopathic maniac who leads the vendetta against Bacon. He usually plays the big boy with a soft spot, ( Friday Night Lights and Four Brothers), but here he goes full-boar into the dark side, and succeeds. As for Goodman, he shows that he can still steal a scene with his patented quirky bit parts. The sleaze he exudes is palpable and this could be his best role since Arachnophobia.

Everything succeeds for the most part. The action scenes fire on all cylinders, as you truly don’t know what is going to happen. Anyone can die and no one is above the law as far as revenge goes. I really enjoyed my time in this hell on earth patch of cityscape, right down to even the soundtrack. Anytime you can have a killer score adding tension and mood, (with a little Saw theme thrown in at numerous times), mixed with Pilate, you got something going. It’s good to see one of my favorite Canadian bands getting some love, and in a very integral way. To conclude, though, I must again praise Wan for giving us one of the best final confrontations I have seen in a long time; two men, one gun, one question, and a single tear as the answer. To have an adrenaline rush end on such a perfect note is a rare thing and something not to be soon forgotten.

Death Sentence 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

[1] Kevin Bacon portrays a mild-mannered executive who, after witnessing the brutal murder of his oldest son, is transformed into a vigilante exacting swift revenge, in DEATH SENTENCE. Photo Credit: Jim Bridges.
[2] Garrett Hedlund star as Billy Darley in action drama ‘Death Sentence’


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