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4 reviews, 21 user ratings

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Death Sentence
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Bacon--The Other Red Meat"
3 stars

In yet another case of great minds in Hollywood thinking alike, the next couple of weeks will see the arrival of two separate movies in which decent, law-abiding citizens see their loved ones killed before their eyes by depraved punks out for kicks and who decide to take the law into their own hands when the justice system fails them. The higher profile one is the heavily promoted “The Brave One,” which features such talented people as Jodie Foster as the aggrieved vigilante and Terrence Howard as the lone decent and dedicated cop in a thriller directed by Neil Jordan, the man behind such highly regarded films as “The Crying Game” and “The Butcher Boy.” Then there is the Labor Day weekend dump “Death Sentence,” which tells virtually the same story and utilizes such lesser lights as Kevin Bacon as the aggrieved vigilante, Aisha Tyler as the lone decent and dedicated cop in a thriller directed by James Wan, the man behind such dumb-ass horror potboilers as the original “Saw” and “Dead Silence.” I have seen both films and while I can’t quite recommend that you see either of them, I will say that if I had to pick one above the other, I would go with the more modest and unassuming “Death Sentence” in a heartbeat because while both films are sleazy and sadistic pieces of grindhouse-level crap, at least “Death Sentence” is cheerfully willing to admit as much.

Our nouveau Bernie Goetz this time is Nick Hume (Bacon), an ordinary guy with a decent job as a risk assessment manager, a loving wife (Kelly Preston), an older son who is a budding hockey star (Stuart Lafferty) and a younger son who is more of an oddball (Jordan Garrett). Alas, Nick is apparently not as good at assessing risk as he purports because he drives into the seedy side of the city with his older son with a gas tank running on empty. While filling up, the station is invaded by a group of masked punks who shotgun the manager and murder Nick’s son with a machete before disappearing into the night. The slasher is quickly apprehended and Nick is shocked to learn that his son was not simply an unfortunate bystander to a robbery–the thug who killed him was trying to join a local gang and the requirement for initiation is to kill a random person in cold blood. He is even more shocked to learn that even though he can ID the culprit definitively, the lack of any other evidence (he apparently had the bad luck to visit the only gas station without a security camera in operation) means that the D.A. is planning on cutting a deal that will have him back out on the streets in 3-5 years rather than take the risk of going to trial.

Nick thinks that stinks and so he almost instantaneously conceives of a grand revenge scheme that he thinks will give him the justice that he and his son deserve. He withdraws his testimony so the punk goes free and then confronts him later that night for a quiet discussion of situational ethics that ends with one skewered punk and Nick taking one of those redemptive showers often favored by revenge-minded individuals after making their first kill. Unfortunately, the dead guy’s brother, Billy (Garrett Hedlund), is the psychotic leader of the gang and after he quickly figures out who was responsible, he vows to get revenge on Nick. From this point on, the film becomes a series of confrontations in which Billy and his gang launch a series of violent attacks that Nick somehow manages to survive, usually taking one or two gang bangers with him, before he and Billy manage to have a big one-on-one final confrontation even though they both should be unconscious from the blows they have absorbed and the amount of blood they have lost.

While it would be tempting to simply write off “Death Sentence” as a carbon-copy rip-off of the infamous Charles Bronson film “Death Wish,” it isn’t quite as cut-and-dried as that. You see, the film is based on a book by Brian Garfield, an author whose other works include, you guessed it, the novel “Death Wish.” From what I understand, Garfield wrote the novel because he was appalled by the various “Death Wish” sequels in which the subtleties and ethical questions that were present in the original film (and yes, they are there) were discarded for more scenes in which Charles Bronson shot cretins in the spine without a moment’s hesitation. I haven’t read the novel so I cannot say how close the film sticks to it but I suspect that Garfield may again have cause to complain because “Death Sentence” is, if anything, even less subtle than the “Death Wish” sequels, if such a thing was possible. Instead of presenting any sort of nuance that might suggest that strange combination of horror and exhilaration that you would expect a character like Nick to experience after sating his bloodlust, Ian Jeffers’ screenplay is a comic book in which Nick and his family are practically secular saints, the gang bangers are heavily tattooed ogres who are cheerfully willing to slaughter anyone in an instant for even the slightest provocation and the justice system is populated by woefully inept dullards who seem to be actively trying to keep killers on the street by any means necessary. Sure, there is an occasional speech or two that halfheartedly explains that taking the law into your own hands is wrong but those moments come across as patently insincere sops that are quickly ignored in the rush to serve up the kind of cinematic red meat that even John Milius might find a bit over the top.

At the same time, I cannot simply dismiss “Death Sentence” because while it is a sleazy and decidedly amoral revenge tale, it is an uncommonly well-made and fairly effective take on the genre. Virtually all of the scenes of brutality on display here are shot in close quarters without a lot of evident post-production trickery and as a result, they have a kind of visceral edge to them that isn’t often seen in movie fight scenes these days out side of the Jason Bourne films. The centerpiece of the film–an extended sequence in which our hero is pursued throughout the various levels of a parking garage–is a bravura piece of filmmaking skill with a seemingly unbroken extended tracking shot that is just as jaw-dropping in its way as similar shots in “Children of Men” and the Brian De Palma film of your choice. And while most of the acting is as one note as the screenplay (Tyler is especially awful as the incompetent cop given to saying things like “You make war on the wrong dog?”), Kevin Bacon is surprisingly effective in the central role and John Goodman turns in a weirdly funny appearance as a cheerfully amoral gun dealer who suggests nothing as much as his character from “The Big Lebowski” gone to violent seed

Over the years, there have been some great films about revenge and the physical and psychic prices paid by those seeking their own brand of justice–I can easily recommend titles ranging from the thoughtful and profound “A History of Violence” to the pop-art fantasies of the “Kill Bill” films to the grindhouse excesses of “Walking Tall” and the genuinely shocking “Fight For Your Life.” “Death Sentence” doesn’t hold a candle to any of those films but I would be lying if I didn’t say that it was reasonably effective on some primal and visceral level. Compared to something like “The Brave One,” which I find to be a craven and cowardly work that pretends to be far more smart and thoughtful about man and his capacity for violence than it actually is, its by-the-numbers excesses and depravities are almost refreshing. I’m not recommending that you see it but if you do, don’t be surprised to find yourself cheering right along with everyone else as one baddie after another bites the dust. For your sake, however, I hope that when you leave the theater, you find yourself in dire need of one of those redemptive showers as well.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=16538&reviewer=389
originally posted: 08/31/07 00:59:11
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User Comments

9/21/17 morris campbell raw & real but flawed 4 stars
10/27/08 Sugarfoot Blood thirsty Death Wish clone, and I loved it. Call it a guilty pleasure. 4 stars
10/25/08 Shaun Wallner Thought this was a good film. 4 stars
2/13/08 Ben One of the very few GREAT action/suspense movies that come along every year! 5 stars
2/02/08 mr.mike Bacon is great but it goes way off track once it veers into "Taxi Driver" zone. 3 stars
1/28/08 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
1/19/08 gcc The best revenge movie since death wish-great directing and acting too 4 stars
1/09/08 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
12/05/07 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
9/08/07 Russ Not bad.... 3 stars
9/07/07 Kremer Hated Saw, loved this despite having to suspend my disbelief 4 stars
9/04/07 ben dover fuck you all fucking great movie kill some homeboys 5 stars
9/02/07 jazz Yeah...this was a "meh"-fest all the way. Pretty awful in parts. OK, at best, in others. 2 stars
9/01/07 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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