Death Sentence
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir James Wan
scr Ian Mackenzie Jeffers
with Kevin Bacon, Garrett Hedlund, Kelly Preston, Aisha Tyler, Jordan Garrett, Stuart Lafferty, John Goodman, Matt O'Leary, Edi Gathegi, Hector Atreyu Ruiz, Rich Ceraulo, Leigh Whannell
release US/UK 31.Aug.07
07/US Fox 1h45
Death Sentence
This thing stops right now: Preston and Bacon

hedlund taylor goodman

Death Sentence This film harks back to 1970s vengeance classics with its gritty visual style and Death Wish plot (it's based on Brian Garfield's sequel novel). There are moments of raw power in the vivid characters, but it never quite comes together.

Nick (Bacon) is a successful businessman with a model family: sexy, loving wife (Preston) and two extremely well-adjusted teen sons (Lafferty and Garrett). One night he's out with the older one, talking about his future as a pro hockey player, when they stumble into a robbery that's actually a grisly initiation rite for a young thug (O'Leary) whose brother Billy (Hedlund) runs their gang. Nick's life is shattered, and when the legal system fails him, he reluctantly begins take things into his own hands.

The film's opening section is so idyllic that we know something awful is on the way. From the Saw franchise, director Wan knows how to carefully set up vicious mayhem, and continually he unsettles us before leading into the full force of viciousness. The film is a rollercoaster of violence and calm, nasty retribution and brief pauses where we can catch our breath. It's utterly gripping, even when it begins to feel corny.

Bacon throws his acting muscle at the role, making Nick into a haunted, driven man who's even more shocked at his own capacity for violence than at what is inflicted on him. His odyssey gets increasingly unbearable as he drifts out of Death Wish territory into Die Hard desperation and ultimately Rambo-like single-mindedness. Meanwhile, Hedlund is a strong match for his fierce energy, as is Goodman in a rare villainous role.

Throughout the film, Wan wisely keeps the camera on Bacon's face, where the descent to brutality is even more present than in the lurid sets and desaturated colours. And if we haven't got it by then, he adds a few not-so-subliminal bits of graffiti ("Welcome to hell") and branding ("Could U"). And even a tell-tale wound that taunts Nick with his evil deeds. From here it's not too far to goofy overstatement, improbable plotting and an overwrought finale. But at least Wan keeps the atmosphere utterly gruelling all the way.

cert 18 themes, strong language, grisly violence 28.Aug.07

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... Death Sentence John, yahoo: 1.5/5 "A quite unpleasant experience punctuated with moments of boredom. The violence is visceral but bearable and without Saw's shock value. The director obviously relies on his audience viewing the underclass with a mixture of fear and revulsion. The 'twist' being that it is all to easy to sink to 'their' level. The film also chucks in a bit of token post-modern narrative with the main baddies father turning out to be not such a good egg either. Forgetting the politics, the story is implausible and the characters do not engage. It ends EXACTLY as you know it will." (23.Feb.08)
2007 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall