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DEATH SENTENCE

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Kevin Bacon, Garrett Hedlund, Kelly Preston, Aisha Tyler, John Goodman
Director: James Wan
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 106 Minutes/111 Minutes
Release Date: January 8, 2008

“I’m coming for the rest of your family. You just bought them a death sentence, motherfu**er!”

Film ***

The vigilante/revenge genre hasn’t seen a more gritty and intense flick since the original Death Wish. And truth be told, Death Sentence to me might even be better than the movie that most considered to be the essential vigilante action thriller. It pulls no punches and takes no prisoners in pushing its characters, as well as movie violence, to the extreme.

The comparison between the 1974 Charles Bronson thriller and this new one is important because Death Sentence happens to be based on a novel by Brian Garfield, who also wrote the original novel that Death Wish was based on. Not only that, but it was originally a follow up to Death Wish and had been intended as the basis for the movie’s sequel. But then Death Wish II came along, straying so far away from the original material and leading to one of the most unnecessary sequel machines in movie history.

And although Death Sentence is not the most predictable movie in the world, especially for audiences who have seen Death Wish and other films like it, director James Wan (Saw) has crafted it in such a gritty and effective way. But what isn’t predictable is just how far Wan and screenwriter Ian Mackenzie Jeffries push the levels of brutality on screen.

Kevin Bacon is perfectly cast in the ordinary everyman turned ruthless vigilante role. He plays Nick Hume, who’s vice president of a big insurance company. He’s a devoted family man with a beautiful wife (the always beautiful Kelly Preston) and two sons, Brendan (Stuart Lafferty) and Lucas (Jordan Garrett).

Brendan is a hockey playing golden boy with a bright future ahead of him. But all of that ends unexpectedly when, while stopping for gas on the way home from a game, he is brutally slain during a stickup. Nick, the only witness to the murder, is devastated to learn two things; his son’s murder was designed as a gang initiation killing and, if convicted, the culprit will only do a few years of jail time.

So Nick makes a crucial decision at the sentencing and lets the young murderer go free, and we can sense right away what his intentions are as far as justice is concerned. He then follows the hoodlum, corners him later than night and kills him. This sets off an ugly chain of events once older brother and gang leader Bobby Darley (Garrett Hedlund) receives word of his young brother’s murder.

Thus, an all out war has broken out between Nick and Billy’s gang, and of the most intriguing aspects of Death Sentence is the way it shows the hero allowing the war to escalate without giving any thought to the harsh repercussions. As one character points out, “Everyone thinks they’re right in a war”. And I won’t give away what results from Nick’s refusal to let things end, but one such incident made my jaw hit the floor.

At the same time, Death Sentence is a superb hardcore action flick, with some of the most realistic and violent action scenes I’ve seen in any recent movie. Director Wan made a wise choice to ditch all CGI and shoot the action scenes as raw and authentic as can possibly be, with what looks to be the actors doing a great bit of their own physical work. And there’s one action scene unlike any I’ve ever seen, a foot chase that leads to a multi-level parking garage that is all done in one single shot. That show’s amazing craftsmanship on Wan’s part.

Death Sentence is an excellent example of how a raw, gritty, dark and violent revenge thriller should be. The intense performance from Kevin Bacon and the riveting brutal style provided by James Wan combine to make one action thriller that delivers quite an impact. If you want a thriller of the most extreme sort, look no further.

BONUS: The movie was shot entirely on location in Columbia, SC, only 2 and a half hours from my whereabouts.

Video ****

Fox delivers a terrific presentation with an anamorphic picture that perfectly captures the grittiness of the movie. The look of the movie is quite unconventional in color tone, adding a great deal of raw style to the movie, and the picture quality soars in delivering that unique quality. Well-handled all around!

Audio ****

This action thriller delivers quite a bang indeed! The 5.1 mix takes every advantage of this action packed thriller. The action set pieces will blow you away, especially the climatic standoff. Dialogue delivery and music playback are also in top sounding quality.

Features ***

No commentary track to be found, but a good enough amount of extras find their way on this Fox release. First off, both the theatrical and unrated versions of the movie are included, the latter of which contains six additional minutes. The disc includes two well handled featurettes; “Fox Movie Channel Presents: Making A Scene”, which covers the making of that awesome single-shot foot chase, and “Fox Movie Channel Presents Life After Film School with Kevin Bacon”, where three film school students sit down for an in depth interview with the actor. Lastly, there are ten brief webisodes, each capturing different aspects of the production, and bonus trailers for Sunshine, Live Free or Die Hard, Joshua and Cover.

Summary:

Death Sentence is unquestionably the best revenge thriller to come around in quite sometime. It’s a well-executed genre piece with serious levels of brutality and violence to spare.

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