Sometimes I take too long to get to the meat of my reviews, forcing my readers to plow through several paragraphs until they discover my true feelings about a film. Let me save you the trouble this time around.
Avoid Death Sentence like the plague.
Nick Hume (Kevin Bacon) is a mild-mannered everyman — an insurance executive who spends his days at work analyzing risk portfolios and his nights at home with his beautiful wife and two teenaged sons. When his eldest son is brutally murdered as part of a gang initiation, something inside Bacon snaps. While his quest for retribution comes away with its pound of flesh, it also takes everything Nick loves down with it.
Death Sentence is a wildly over-directed film from James Wan (Saw), who has never in his life heard of the words subtlety or restraint. The film relies on blatant melodrama when it should settle on cold, hard understatement. I couldn’t help imagining, in the first act, before it really went off the rails, what this film might have looked like in the hands of another, far more insightful and self-composed director such as Mystic River's Clint Eastwood.
The dialogue is embarrassingly ghastly; the is score overwrought; the soundtrack is something from a bad "Dawson's Creek" episode; the look of the film, with its soft, bleached frame and diffused cinematography doesn’t feel retro or daring — it just looks like rubbish. Perhaps most surprising of all, Kevin Bacon, a great actor by anyone’s estimation, turns in his worst performance in memory.
The audience laughed at so many points during the film (none of them points the filmmakers intended) that if one didn’t know better, one might think Death Sentence was a comedy.
The one single bright moment in this film is the inclusion of John Goodman as a gunslinger from whom Hume buys the weaponry with which to enact his revenge. Rest assured, though Hume is so inept when buying the guns that he doesn’t seem to know which end to point at the enemy, he is transformed into a badass simply by reading a few manuals — and, of course, shaving his head.
In the final act, as Bacon, now a black-clad death angel, uses his bullets to tear the limbs from his family's killers, Death Sentence begins to resemble the sort of grindhouse film Robert Rodriquez and Quentin Tarantino attempted to evoke earlier in the summer. It all ends (blessedly) with a rip off of Scorsese's magnificent Taxi Driver.
Revenge films seem to be all the rage these days. Next week Jodie Foster's The Brave One opens with a surprisingly similar storyline. Death Sentence pretends to be a fable about the dangers of reciprocity. It purports to be a moral commentary on reprisal and its ability to turn on and destroy all who touch it — those who live by the sword, die by the sword. Some have seen in it a cautionary tale about America's post-9/11 need for retribution. Sure, and Saw was an alarm bell against the inadequacies of the health care system.
Death Sentence is a laughably bad exercise in the pornography of sadism and the American appetite which voraciously consumes it. The only death sentence here is your price of admission. Do yourself and this film a favor. Put it out of its misery.