Fri 31 Aug 2007
Six bullets in the gun … Six degrees of Kevin Bacon … Coincidence? I think not.
Adapted from author Brian Garfield’s novel, “Death Sentence” makes a lot more sense once you look into the past work of Garfield and director James Wan.
Wan probably is better known, as he directed “Saw”. This basically lets the audience know that Wan knows how to do bloody.
Garfield wrote the “Death Wish” novels that were so gloriously brought to life on-screen via Charles Bronson. Apparently, Garfield loves the word ‘Death’ and he loves when one man takes on a gang and mows them down with an assortment of firearms.
Add Wan and Garfield’s talents together and you get “Death Sentence”, only instead of using Bronson (which would necessitate some very strong smelling salts), they cast Kevin Bacon.
Bacon has seemingly made a conscious decision to do darker films lately, most notably in “The Woodsman” and “Mystic River”. Of course, there’s also “Hollow Man” to reminisce about but if you’re wondering, no he never turns invisible in this film.
In “Death Sentence”, Bacon plays the stereotypical, successful white-collar father, with a beautiful wife and two good kids. Coming home late one night with his eldest son, he stops for gas in a bad neighborhood and a gang of ne’er-do-wells downsize his family.
Instead of trusting the justice system, which seems to be failing him, Bacon decides to go vigilante on their asses and brings us along for the ride.
It is exactly this aspect of the film that in looking back on Garfield’s work, I completely see how this would have been “Death Wish V” if Bronson were still with us.
All of the broad plot points for a film of this genre are there. Bacon murders one gang member, who of course turns out to be the leader’s little brother. A blood feud erupts and all bets are off.
The action is all done fairly well and Wan’s gory expertise came in handy for much of Bacon’s shotgun work. If you just want to see people get the crap kicked out of them and have their bodies used as target practice, then this film is for you.
If you’re like me, you need a little more however and here’s where I can let my critical side come out and play.
First off, there’s a terribly simplistic and poor portrayal of the police. Aisha Tyler plays the detective assigned to the case and she obviously sees that Bacon has gone vigilante. Instead of locking him up, she basically says, “you shouldn’t have started a war … now you’re probably going to die”. Charming.
Also, at one point, Bacon escapes her custody so he can continue his war on terror. Now pay attention because I’m only going to write this once.
Once Bacon gets loose, he goes and buys guns so he can lay waste to the competition. Seems sensible.
Then he takes them back to his home to load up and pulls a Natalie Portman and shaves off his hair in a terribly anticlimactic scene.
Now, I’m no detective but if someone flees custody, shouldn’t I watch their home? How is it that there isn’t a cop waiting there for him since he was on foot and injured and they probably have cars to get around the city in?
That aside, Bacon goes on to the gang’s lair and exacts revenge. It’s pretty standard stuff for a film like this … or is it?
I don’t want to give too much away (though I can’t say I really recommend this film so I’m not sure if matters) but in its defense, “Death Sentence” does do a nice job of not playing it totally PC, killing some people that normally would be taboo for a mainstream film and I was honestly surprised by Bacon’s initial encounter with the kid responsible for killing his son.
Still, the tone of the film is up and down and there’s some terribly mismatched music that undercuts the gravity of the scenes.
Also, the screening audience I was with spent half of the time laughing at what should be considered somber scenes and the other half cheering on the violence. I honestly thought I was caught in some twisted version of “Idiocracy” as I’m not sure if the collective IQ around me would be enough to score well on the SAT … but sadly, I’m sure they’ll breed.
All of that said, “Death Sentence” just doesn’t deliver and I’m giving it a 2 out of 5. There are some nice, violent moments but the sum of its parts doesn’t seem to fit together. Maybe the upcoming “The Brave One” where Jodie Foster plays the female version of Charles Bronson will do a better job of it. Stranger things have happened.