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"Death Sentence"
Reviewer:
Taylor Carlson
Studio: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Genre: Drama
Release:
1/8/08
Special Features: Unrated version, Making A Scene featurette, Life After Film School featurette, Webisodes
Review:

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 Hard.) ***

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 Sentence. ***

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.) ---

Special Features:

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.

Final Words:

The vigilante thing has been done to death, and Death Sentence falls flat in nearly every area. There are other vigilante movies out there - and just about all of them have more depth and substance than this one. If you want to see a movie like this done right, go rent the original Death Wish with Charles Bronson - that remains the definitive vigilante picture.

 

 
 
 
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