Death Sentence (2007)

DVD Cover (Twentieth Century Fox)
Genres: Drama, Psychological Drama, Psychological Thriller
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James Wan James Wan
Kevin Bacon Kevin Bacon
Garrett Hedlund Garrett Hedlund
Kelly Preston Kelly Preston
Jordan Garrett Jordan Garrett
Stuart Lafferty Stuart Lafferty

6.8 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by bluemeanie
Added: September 05, 2007
For starters, I don't think James Wan has very much talent as a director. He's all visuals. He knows how to make a shot look good -- he knows how to light his sets and utilizes art direction and production design budgets like most directors utilize Crafts Services. However, he cannot direct his actors and the proof is in the pudding. With "Saw", he created some stunning set-ups and a dark and gloomy mood, but Cary Elwes turned in an absolutely horrible performance, especially towards the end of the film. In "Dead Silence", he once again used very gloomy art direction and gave us some nice horrific images, but all of the performances were under par. His latest film, "Death Sentence", suffers from the same fate, for most of the actors. Maybe James Wan needs to learn how to tell his actors to do what he thinks they should be doing. For the most part, they just seem lost.

All of that said, this is James Wan's best film to date. Kevin Bacon stars as Nick Hume, a successful risk analysis coordinator who has a beautiful wife (Kelly Preston) and two wonderful kids (Jordan Garrett & Stuart Lafferty). One night, while stopping at a gas station on the wrong side of the tracks, his oldest son is murdered by a young man (Matthew O'Leary) as part of a gang initiation. This death shatters Nick's life and that of his family. When he thinks the kid responsible will be let off without much time, Nick decides to take matters into his own hands and take care of justice himself. This initiates a chain reaction that turns the gang of criminals responsible for the death of his son, led by Billy Darley (Garrett Hedlund) on Nick and his family, which leads to a bloody and unexpected conclusion that evokes both "Death Wish" and every other Charles Bronson revenge film ever made.

The two people who saw this film with me hated it -- boy, did they hate it. They said it was too cheesy and too predictable and too bad. Isn't that the point? "Death Sentence" is so obviously a remake of "Death Wish", with as few facts changed as possible. It's a classic 1970's revenge film, and it's the first one to come around in a while that still has that feel to it. Part of that lies in the cheesiness. You have the perfect family, in the beginning, with the mischievous sons and the all too perfect wife. You have the one son who thinks his dad loves his brother more than him, and then you have the heartfelt confession by the hospital bed. You have very oddly placed sappy music that lets the audience know someone is about to cry. In fact, all the major characters in this film seem to cry at least once, at some point. It's a very emotional film, I just wished more of it seemed authentic.

The problem with "Death Sentence" is believability. I didn't believe most of these actors, with two exceptions. Kevin Bacon is fantastic here, especially during the second act of the picture. I doubt James Wan directed him to do anything and he probably did all the work himself, but he's Kevin Bacon and he knows how to work. He goes through a myriad of emotions in this film and finds a way to make them all quirky and real. John Goodman is equally impressive in a role with three scenes in the entire film. He has three scenes and he steals the film away from everyone else. His character is creepy, funny and makes an unexpected turn towards the end. I am so glad to see him starting to make more films again. On the down side, Kelly Preston is just awful as the wife, even once trying to cry but obviously lacking the talent to do so. Garrett Hedlund is just as bad as the lead bad guy. None of these villains are threatening. They all seem like ass hole kids. Hedlund, especially, is not threatening and he really offers nothing in the way of imposition or intimidation.

There are some noteworthy sequences. The parking deck sequence is all in one continuous shot and when we see Kevin Bacon and panting and sweating and out of breath -- it's all real. They took a cue from "Children of Men" and it paid off because it is one of the more tense sequences in the entire film. I also liked the lighting in the church scenes, with the red glass. James Wan has an eye for those sorts of things. And don't forget to look for a painting of the clown from "Saw" -- it makes a cameo in this film also. And the name of the judge in the court room is the name of one of the characters from "Dead Silence". My favorite scene, however, is probably the cheesiest, when Kevin Bacon is in the hospital room and the bad ass music starts to play and he looks directly into the camera and you know he is about to start kicking some major ass.

"Death Sentence" is a balls to the wall popcorn flick, and nothing more. It's a guilty pleasure and I expect a lot of people to absolutely hate it. I thought it was trying to pay homage to "Death Wish" and films like it, and that gave it some leeway with what it was doing and how it was doing it. Kevin Bacon and John Goodman were just fantastic, but the rest of the cast was weak. Director James Wan needs to find his own voice in the world of film and start learning to help his actors get to where they need to be. Or maybe he just needs to start casting better actors, for the most part. But, with all its flaws, "Death Sentence" entertained the hell out of me and it was nice to see an unadulterated blood fest where people get what they deserve.

grain of sand #1: grain of sand - added 12/27/2007, 05:54 AM
finally saw this and really wish I would have seen it in the theatre.. I came into this with high expectations for the ass kicking and a psycho revenge bent Bacon and walked away so happy despite the weak acting here and there.

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