Friday, January 16, 2009

Death Sentence (2007)

This review contains spoilers throughout. If you don't want to see them, skip directly to the rating and have a nice day.

Death Sentence
is a 2007 revenge film from director James Wan (he directed the original Saw and was executive producer for the rest of the series). The film stars Kevin Bacon as a grieving father who decides to ignore the US justice system and mete vigilante justice upon a hoodlum who slew his hockey star son at a gas station. This killing was part of an initiation ceremony into a gang of thugs and drug dealers. The conflict quickly escalates out of control and this is essentially the entire plot of the film (and of just about any revenge film).

Had this been labeled a 'comedy', it would have been well worth price of admission and a popcorn. Had it just been some over the top, exploitation revenge film, it still might have been worth the time. Unfortunately, like so many films of its ilk, Death Sentence takes itself seriously. And this is ultimately the film's downfall.

Bacon himself is capable of a wide range of emotions and acting chops. He does a decent job as the main Nick Hume, and the rest of the cast isn't so shabby either. John Goodman takes a turn as 'Bones Darley', a fat bastard gun dealer who is also the father of the film's primary antagonist. Garret Hedlund plays a rather generic thug, Billie Darley. Really, the faults of the film can't be forced upon any of the actors, they tried to make due with a quite terrible script.

The first gripe I have is the gang...a bunch of hoodlums with generic tribal tattoos dealing drugs, having multiple bases of operation, and 'initiating' their young members by having them perform a random killing? Now I believe in violence, gangs, and even hazing, but this is just too stupid to believe within the confines of the film. Could you possibly have painted us a less interesting band of villain? You've got the typical shaved heads and tattoos, a PC assortment of crew members, and of course they drive around in totally hot muscle cars. How the FUCK did these people, in the universe of this film, ever get away with anything? They could not POSSIBLY be more obvious.

But wait...I'LL ANSWER THAT. They get away with killing, dealing and wheeling because the cops in this film are one of the biggest collections of incompetents I have ever witnessed. Aisha Tyler as Detective Wallis is sure to show up and scold Hume for his vigilante actions, and then threaten him, but she is absolutely ineffectual, as are the rest of the police force. Hume just goes along on his merry way to the next phase of his revenge. Detective Wallis is pathetic. The rest of the cops are pathetic. It is painfully evident that the Darley gang is a major force to contend with because of statements Wallis makes, so when they need to protect Hume's home, knowing full well the gang is going to show up, why do they just leave two sleepy cops outside who are easily dispatched? And after the fucking cops are killed, why is the rest of the force not out on a manhunt to destroy this gang? It's like the police department completely ignores the death of their own. Not bloody likely!

Were this pure exploitation, these gripes would not matter much, and would even be expected. But the film attempts to make itself a realistic drama. The family's emotions seem spot on throughout this crisis, in particular Bacon as he descends into his blood debt madness. The best sequence of the film features Bacon, with an incompletely shaved head and a bag full of firearms, engage in the gory and penultimate shootout with the Darley gang. There is no holding back, gangstas are dealt fulfilling, gaping wounds by a variety of hardware. As Hume and Billie Darley sit on a pew, you get a nice little interchange of words. If I could have watched these 10-15 minutes of the film and skipped the rest, my opinion might have been different. There is also a nice continous shot during a multi-story parking garage battle.

There is very little to recommend here. Considering the heights the revenge film has gone to in its colorful past (from the dialogue driven exploits of Kill Bill to the morbid Oldboy or the grim western Unforgiven), you expect new movies of this style to try and one-up their predecessors. Death Sentence is no Death Wish, even if they shared the same writer.

Verdict: Fail [4/10]

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