Death Sentence

James Wan

Now I’ve never been that gifted with statistics or probabilities—anything really relating to mathematics—but I think if I was a professional assessor of risk, I’d know that going after a group of murderous gang members on my own may not be the wisest idea in the long run... not only because it’s against the law but because it carries with it a hell of a risk. However, with his judgment clouded by unspeakable grief after watching his teenage “golden boy” Brendan killed in a gas station by a gang working on an initiation of new members, Nick Hume (Kevin Bacon) disregards the risk and makes what appears to be a split-second decision to seek vengeance on his own after he changes his testimony and lets the trigger (or actually slice-and-dice) man go. Of course, audiences know he hasn’t really forgotten the sight of the man executing his son, but we’re even more shocked by the cool and calculating manner that this risk assessment executive goes from mild to wild in hunting down the first of several responsible with the intention of getting bloody revenge.

If this sounds familiar, it should for many reasons—the first is that 2007 saw two violent stories filmed in a gun metal color palette released just weeks apart, the first would be Saw director James Wan’s Death Sentence and the second was the Neil Jordan film The Brave One. While The Brave One is superior simply for the acting of Jodie Foster and Terrence Howard, I was surprised by just how involved I felt while watching Death Sentence (at least for the first half before it derails the logic train completely) and it’s definitely the more entertaining of the two. Death Sentence may also seem familiar to fans of the Charles Bronson Death Wish films of the 70’s—the film was made once before in the early seventies and it’s based on Brian Garfield’s novel that according to IMDb was a direct sequel novel to the author’s Death Wish.

However, as I touched on before, Death Sentence does evolve from terrifying and intense to gratuitously bloody and nonsensical after the gang members predictably peeved at lone killer Bacon decide to come after him and his entire family and the police detective assigned to the case (a wasted Aisha Tyler) does absolutely nothing by the book and pretty much lets events unfold while scolding Bacon like a schoolmarm and not like the intelligent officer of the law she’s purported to be. There’s a worthwhile twist at the end that was begging to have been explored in even greater detail as Bacon, now having lost more than he could possibly have imagined (though it barely seems to phase him onscreen) goes after the head member of the gang and in his transformation begins to look very similar to the “animals” he is pursuing, showing the thin line he’s crossed between right and wrong in his tunnel vision and quest for vengeance. Note to DVD renters—Death Sentence has been released with dual versions on the same disc featuring first the R rated version shown into theatres and secondly the unrated one with far more graphic violence. As a critic, I stuck with the R rated theatrical one and-- not to sound like the motherly character Tyler played in the film-- before I’d advise viewers to click on whichever version they choose, you might want to check out the first half hour of the film in its rated version to see if you’d even want to watch a more brutal version since in the hands of Saw’s James Wan, little is left to the imagination.