Death Sentence is directed by James Wan (Saw series),
and stars Kevin Bacon (Hollow Man, Mystic River), John Goodman
(Bee Movie, Evan Almighty), Garrett Hedlund (Friday Night
Lights, Eragon), Kelly Preston (View From The Top, What
A Girl Wants), and Matt O'Leary (Brick, Live Free Or Die
Director James Wan leaves the torture-horror world
of Saw behind for Death Sentence. Based loosely on Brian
Garfield's novel of the same name, it follows the life of
a working-class dad whose son is killed during a visit to
a convenience store. As his life is destroyed and he becomes
increasingly distraught, he vows revenge against those who
took the life of his son ***
A brief history lesson before I get down to the criticisms.
In the seventies, author James Garfield wrote two novels
about the vigilante Paul Benjamin - Death Wish and Death
Death Wish, the novel in which Benjamin's family is
killed and he takes up vigilantism, was made into a film
starring Charles Bronson. It was an immediate success, despite
its controversial nature. However, Garfield himself was
unhappy with the final product, feeling it veered too sharply
from the liberal tone of the novel, and that the film promoted
and glorified vigilantism. Additionally, the film version
of Death Wish spawned four sequels (none of which were based
on a Garfield work) - all of which Garfield loathed for
similar reasons. A remake of the original film is slated
for next year, with Sylvester Stallone as the lead. ***
Death Sentence was the follow-up novel, which featured
Benjamin moving from New York to Chicago, and continuing
his vigilantism there. He ultimately learns the error of
his ways, leaving this life behind so he can settle down.
The film rights for Death Wish and Death Sentence were distributed
separately, and Garfield has been stating for years that
a film version of Death Sentence would be made - and here
it is. While Garfield himself is not a hundred percent satisfied
with the adaptation of Death Sentence for the big screen,
he considers it a superior product to any film that bore
the Death Wish name. ***
Okay, sorry if I bored you with that history lesson.
For the life of me, I can't seem to see why Garfield likes
this adaptation of his novel so well. The movie has NOTHING
in common with the novel of the same name, instead coming
off as a generic vigilante film - something we've seen so
many times over the years, done so much better. This was
an interesting venture for director James Wan, but maybe
he should stick to the horror genre. ***
By far the biggest weakness of this big-screen adaptation
of Death Sentence is that is lacks the human quality found
in the novel. The novel followed the life of a man who turned
to vigilantism, but ultimately learned that it wasn't necessarily
the best solution - and he ultimately left this life behind.
The characters of this film are, in a sense, stereotypes.
It makes you wonder if the cast and crew were even familiar
with the novel, outside of the basic plot. ***
Death Sentence's cast isn't half bad. Nearly everyone
in the main cast is an accomplished actor. The problem?
These actors can only be as good as the script and the direction
allow them to be. Had Wan opted to create something closer
to the original novel, not lacking the human elements and
qualities that made the book so great, the performances
here probably would have been more critically-acclaimed.
--- Image And Sound:
It's tough to review the image quality for a movie
like this. Wan was most likely going for a gritty look as
the film progresses, to depict the change in the atmosphere.
While he does succeed in creating this look, the effect
is less than desirable in dark scenes (and this film has
plenty of those.) The audio transfer isn't the best, and
sounds often seem imbalanced and mixed wrong (although the
casual viewer probably won't even notice.) ---
There are a few special features included on the disc.
Most notable is an unrated cut of the movie. Both R-Rated
and Uncut versions of the movie are present on a single
disc, due to seamless branching. Essentially, the unrated
version adds in about 6 minutes of extra footage not found
in the theatrical cut. There are two behind-the-scenes featurettes
as well, which while interesting, are a bit on the brief
side. The last notable extra is the webisodes, each of which
cover particular elements of the film's creation process.
Strangely, no trailer is included, though some are for other,
non-related Fox films. What few features are included here
are nice, but you'll be left wanting more.