“Everyone thinks they’re right in a War, but everyone still dies in the end,” Detective Wallis tells Nick Hume in Death Sentence.
I’ve always found vigilante stories fascinating. To me, it’s one of the big appeals of Batman (and how Christopher Nolan is handling the character. However, I must admit, while I was excited to see Death Sentence, I was expecting very little. The trailers made the story look ridiculous (which, it very well may be, but while you’re watching to film, you don’t notice as much).
James Wan is also a very interesting case in terms of directors. He burst onto the scene with SAW at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival. It was a horror film which gave birth to three sequels and a lot of imitators, much in the way both Scream and The Ring introduced a new era of horror films. But his follow-up, Dead Silence, was virtually unseen, and much less critically acclaimed. Death Sentence is a return to form. He takes the vigilante movie genre and adds a couple new twists, and delivers on the brutal violence you would expect from the guy who made SAW.
In Death Sentence, the main character Nick Hume, played in the film by Kevin Bacon, is not a retired military or police officer. He knows not how to handle a gun. He’s a business man, a senior VP at an insurance corporation. He has a wife, two kids, and a seemingly perfect life. But his world is turned upside down when his oldest son, a Hockey player who is just about to go off to college, is brutally killed in a gang initiation gas station robbery.
And of course, when Hume feels that the legal system won’t help him, he decides to take justice into his own hands. This is where Wan handles the genre a little differently. I feel vigilante films are usually pretty simple. And other people might not like the emotional story which is told in-between the action interludes, but I believe it’s what makes Death Sentence unique (if just slightly). Wan offers a look at the psychology that goes into this drastic decision, and offers some explanation into the mind of someone seeking vengeance. To blame one’s self means that one must take responsibility personally. Because killing someone is not simple (and is even less simple for someone who has never done it before).
The first 45 minutes are SOLID. Good sit back, relax, popcorn munching fun. There are some questionable story points, which mostly revolve around the gang which Hume goes to war with. I felt the realism in most of the other characters in the film, but the gang members seemed very cliche and sometimes to a laughable extent. And John Goodman appears in a few scenes as an angry arms dealer. His appearance is pretty funny, but at the end of the day seems pretty unnecessary.
Death Sentence has some intense action, from a chase sequence downtown to the parking garage showdown that is shown in the trailer (which I must mention was for the most part filmed in one camera shot traveling between multiple levels of the parking garage). There are two more on the edge of your seat sequences which I really can’t go into detail, since they come closer to the end of the film, and involve major spoilers. Let’s just say that this movie does not go the way you might think it will, and offers something more than the expected story. The two action sequences at the tail end of the flick are probably worth the price of admission alone.
Death Sentence isn’t the cure for cancer. It’s not oscar worthy, although, Kevin Bacon offers a performance that might be too good for your typical genre film. And yes, despite the small twists, this is your typical vigilante genre film. But is that necessarily a bad thing? I left the theater smiling, amused at how much I enjoyed myself. But again, may-be that’s because I was expecting so little going in.
The Hidden Mickey: Oh, and watch out for the nice nod to SAW/Jigsaw in the background.
/Film Rating: 7 out of 10