Starring: Kevin Bacon, John Goodman, Kelly Preston, Garrett Hedlund
Written by: Brian Garfield, Ian Jeffers
It’s no secret that most industry films follow very rigid formulas, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Every once in a while, however, a film comes along that does the formula so well that it sets itself a cut above other films. Death Sentence is one of those high-caliber movies.
At its heart, Death Sentence is a story about degeneration, veiled in a vengeance-tale. David Hume, played by the always-a-pleasure-to-watch Kevin Bacon, lives a middle-class life with his wife and two sons. His older son, Brendan, is a promising athlete and the future looks bright for the Hume clan. On the way home from a game, David and Brendan find themselves low on gas in the red light district and are targeted by street thugs as victims of an initiation killing. To find peace, David wages war on the men who killed his son.
What really sells the film is how well we get to know the family and how much we feel their loss. To that end, director James Wan, who’s best known for having directed Saw, wisely plays Hume family home videos during the intro credits. Not only are we given a lot of information of the family in a short amount of time, but we can’t help but sympathize with them since I’m sure we’ve all had to partake in similar videos with our own families. It was also nice to see each family member going through their own grieving process, rather than be flat characters.
Moreover, I was glad to see the film take its time with the transformation of David from mild-mannered businessman to vigilante. David struggles believably between inwardly dealing with his loss and violently lashing out in morally despicable ways. He fights the urge to go over the edge every step of the way, as most would, rather than wholeheartedly give up the life he’s trying to build and become a murderer himself.
Death Sentence is not without its contrivances, sadly. If a bloodthirsty gang of killers was after my family and knew where I lived, I’d get my family the hell out of Dodge rather than stand sentry with a baseball bat. There’s also a very unrealistic bit where David and the gang leader sit side-by-side for a tête–à–tête. Lastly, I’ll never understand why men in movies insist on taking showers with the shower curtain open. I guess they don’t mind wet floors. Overall, however, these are small complaints of an otherwise excellent revenge film.