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Death Sentence (2007)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 1/8/2008

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/2/2008

Why is it that during turbulent times we see a rise in vigilante films? Is it an expression of the public wanting to see someone take control when the world seems on the brink of chaos? The 1970s saw the quintessential movie where a civilian takes the law into their own hands with Death Wish. That era also saw the underrated Rolling Thunder. The early 80s had Death Wish sequels and Sudden Impact. The vigilante film all but disappeared in the 1990s, but it has made a comeback with the recent release of The Brave One and Death Sentence, which is based on a novel from the same writer as Death Wish, and is now coming to DVD.

Kevin Bacon stars in Death Sentence as Nick Hume, a successful businessman and a happy family-man who lives with his wife, Helen (Kelly Preston), and his two sons, Brendan (Stuart Lafferty) and Lucas (Jordan Garrett). While returning from a hockey game one night, Nick and Brendan stop in a dodgy part of town for gas. Brendan goes into the convenience store just as a group of thugs arrive. One of them kills Brendan, but not before Nick gets a good look at him. At the hearing, Nick is told that the killer, Joe Darley (Matt O'Leary), will get a plea bargain for 3 to 5 years in prison. Upon learning this, Nick then lies to the judge about his recollection of the murder and decides to take justice into his own hands. He follows the gang from the courthouse and later that night, kills Joe. Thus begins a war between Nick and gang leader Billy Darley (Garrett Hedlund). As Nick attempts to deal with the grief of losing his son and the guilt of having become a killer, Billy works on a plan to go after Nick's family. Nick will soon learn just how far he's willing to go to protect what is his.

I mentioned that many vigilante films were made in the 70s and early 80s and Death Sentence would have felt right at home in that era, as the movie is deadly serious and very violent. Sure, there are plenty of violent films made today, but few have the bleak outlook or cold-blooded nature of those older movies and in that sense, Death Sentence feels like a throwback. There's no question that the movie is mean-spirited at times, but it also has a moral center and this is the kind of movie which can spark debate amongst viewers. What would you do if you were in Nick's shoes? I think that we would all agree that murder is wrong and that, as Americans, we should trust in the justice system, but the movie leads us to cheer for Nick in his crusade of vengeance.

But, let's say that you don't care about the film's politics, you just want to know if it's a good action movie. Here's your answer: Death Sentence is one of the best action films that I've seen in quite some time. (At least since Live Free or Die Hard.) The movie works for a simple reason, the action starts early in the film and it doesn't let up until the very end. The problem with most movies in this genre is that they ration out the intense scenes and fill the film with dull dialogue. Not Death Sentence. The murder of Nick's son comes very quickly and it doesn't take long at all for Nick to exact his revenge. (I was actually very surprised by how quickly this occurs.)

Death Sentence was helmed by Saw director James Wan and it's clear that the young director knows a thing or two about ratcheting up the tension on the audience. Every action scene in this film is very well shot, from the murder which starts everything, clear through to the violent finale. But, the capper is a long chase through a parking deck which is all done in one take. Once you realize that there hasn't been a cut in this scene, you will be mesmerized by it. (The way in which the camera scaled the building reminded me of the famous shot in Dario Argento's Tenebre.) And, as one would expect from the director of Saw, Wan doesn't pull any punches with the violence in the film (in the unrated cut at least). This movie is packed with squib hits and this really helps to reinforce the damage that Nick is inflicting.

Now, the fact that Death Sentence works as an action film doesn't mean that it's a great movie. The film is full of plotholes and inconsistencies. (If Nick thinks that he's going to be attacked, why doesn't he have something other than a baseball bat?) And despite the film's nice narrative structure and attempts at a political slant, it's still pretty thick-headed at times. Still, truly satisfying action movies are few and far between these days, and very few offer the non-stop violence found in this movie. If you feel like getting revenge on all of those movies which promised action but didn't deliver, then check out Death Sentence.

Death Sentence swears revenge on DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer has been enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. Keeping in mind that I was watching a preview disc, the image looks pretty good. The picture shows very little grain and no defects from the source material. The image was well-balanced as the night time scenes were never overly dark. Colors were realistic, although the palette skewed towards beige at times, most likely to make the blood stand out. I did note some mild video noise at times, and some shimmering on the image, but I can't say if this will be present in the final product. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This track offers some very nice bass and surround sound effects which really enhance the movie. Every gunshot roars through the speakers and the subwoofer reacts in kind. There are also some nice stereo effects during the finale.

This DVD contains both the Theatrical and Unrated cuts of the film. The Unrated cut runs some 5 1/2 minutes longer than the Theatrical cut. For the purposes of this review, only the Unrated version was screened. I can't help but imagine that some of the violence found in the Unrated version is missing from the Theatrical cut.

The Death Sentence DVD contains a decidedly mixed bag of extras. "Fox Movie Channel Presents: Making a Scene" (10 minutes) examines the on-foot chase from the film which contains an amazing action segment which is all done in one take. Director James Wan and Kevin Bacon amongst others comment on how the scene was done, and we also get behind-the-scenes footage showing the special camera rigs which were used. "Fox Movie Channel Presents: Life After Film School with Kevin Bacon" (27 minutes) has the actor interviewed by three students who ask Bacon about his career and his views on acting. The DVD contains 10 "Webisodes" which run about 18 minutes and examine various aspects of the making of the film. There is a "Play All" option, but unfortunately, we have to sit through the intro and outro for each piece. Why weren't these simply edited together?

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long