20th Century Fox presents
Death Sentence (2007)
Owen: If anything like that ever happened to me I just, I don't know. I think I'd snap.
Nick: Well, you don't really know what you'd do until it happens.- (Rich Ceraulo, Kevin Bacon)
Stars: Kevin Bacon
Other Stars: Garrett Hedlund, Kelly Preston, Jordan Garrett, Stuart Lafferty, Aisha Tyler, John Goodman, Matt O'Leary, Edi Gathegi, Hector Atreyu Ruiz, Rich Ceraulo, Judith Roberts
Director: James Wan
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (strong bloody brutal violence and pervasive language)
Run Time: 01h:51m:04s
Release Date: 2008-01-08
DVD ReviewTo say the vengeance-driven Death Sentence from Saw director James Wan resembles the classic 1974 Charles Bronson film Death Wish isn't much of a stretch. Both feature family men driven by brutal acts to load up on guns and take out the bad guys all by themselves, and both are based on novels by Brian Garfield.
Instead of a steely-eyed Bronson, Wan gives us Kevin Bacon and Kelly Preston as a happy married couple with two boys, and when a wrong-place-wrong-time scenario turns tragic, everything gets tilted. Bacon's Nick Hume—torn by all manner of grief—moves down the path of vengeance, alternatingly stalking and being stalked by the tattooed band of goons who brought down horror on his family life.
With the success of Saw, it seems curious to see Wan moving from horror into an entirely new genre, especially one that seems so cookie-cutter and thin. The components here are not terribly deep and it's clear that the bad guys are going to be picked off one by one until it's time for the confrontation with the big boss, in this case Garret Hedlund as hulking, bald, and tattooed Billy.
I know horror films rarely offer much that's different (expendable victims, bloody final encounter), but with Death Sentence it all just plays out with no measurable sense of tension.
Wan works a few tricks to make things interesting, including the film's most breathless sequence (involving an alleyway chase that ends up in a parking garage) that even for its excessive excess shows the director's clever eye for action. The fact that a scene like that is trapped in a relatively by-the-numbers film is unfortunate, because it makes some of the cornier music-montage moments look even more like the tired cliches that they are.
Maybe I'm just expecting more from Wan based simply on Saw and Dead Silence. John Goodman has a small role as a shady, foul-mouthed thug boss, and the film could use more of this type of violent/comic energy to liven up the rest of the one-note comic book bad guys.
As the film moves into its telegraphed grand showdown, Kevin Bacon's character morphs from not knowing how to load a shotgun (via music montage) into a multi-weapon killing machine in just a few moments. That's a cheap and lazy way to do things, and it makes Bacon's understandably weepy, grieving performance up to that point look like it came from another movie entirely. Maybe not necessarily Oscar-worthy, but Bacon lets his character cry and break down often (take that, Charles Bronson), and a few scenes early on with Kelly Preston contain genuine glimmers of heartfelt emotion. But all of that happens before he becomes the reincarnation of Travis Bickle, laden with big guns and lots of bullets.
This release features both the theatrical (01h:45m:27s) and unrated (01h:51m:04s) versions.
Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: C-
|Aspect Ratio||2.35:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: Death Sentence is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, and while it's hard to say if my Fox screener may be a wholly accurate copy of the final street version, it seems that Wan has given the film a purposely desaturated appearance once the main storyline kicks in. Early on—when things are happy—fleshtones and colors are more natural and bright, but as the film progresses there a decidedly bleachy tone that takes over. With the palette reduced, more grain is evident, which lends a grittier texture overall. No instances of blemishes or dirt.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is a bit of a disappointment. Periodic ambient moments—a barking dog or a car horn—pop up occasionally, but when the action gets louder, there seems to be much less rear channel usage. Voice quality is clear, and there is a pleasant sense of movement across the front three channels.
A 2.0 Spanish dub is also included.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
7 Other Trailer(s) featuring Hitman, Lake Placid 2, The Comebacks, Live Free Or Die Hard, Sunshine, Joshua, Cover
Extras Review: Both the theatrical (01h:45m:27s) and unrated (01h:51m:04s) are presented on the same side of the disc, with a menu option allowing viewers to choose.
A pair of nonanamorphic supplements look at the film's signature alley/parking garage chase sequences—Fox Movie Channel Presents: Making A Scene (09m:59s)—while Fox Movie Channel Presents: Life After Film School With Kevin Bacon (26m:23s) is a lengthy interview with the actor. Also included are ten mini-webisodes (total runtime 18m:09s) covering production elements like the cars, creating characters, and fight choreography.
Plenty of assorted trailers, but none for the feature. The disc is cut into 28 chapters, with optional subs in English, French, and Spanish.
Extras Grade: C+
Final CommentsDeath Sentence fits in the family-man-turned-vengeful-gunman genre, a category where Charles Bronson's Death Wish reigns as king. Kevin Bacon gives a watchable performance, but the cartoony thugs (do people still say "dawg"?) render the story almost comical. Plenty of violent gunplay in the final act, but none of it seemed particularly purposeful or believable, making this outing from Saw director James Wan appear all the more misplaced.
Rich Rosell 2008-01-21