Death Sentence was refreshingly short, incredibly violent, emotional, and well-directed. Most importantly, it relied on the story to move the film along instead of playing leap frog with action scenes. In a time where screenwriters seem to think that movies need to be two and a half hours long (Pirates 3, I'm lookin' at you!), it was good to see a film that said what needed to be said and didn't drag it on for another forty minutes to meet some sort of invisible deadline.
The ever-versatile Kevin Bacon stars as Nick Hume, a father whose life is torn apart when his son is killed before his eyes in a gang killing at a gas station. John Goodman plays a minimal (but humorous) role, but the "off the radar" star was Garrett Hedlund, who played the leader of the gang and was almost unrecognizable from his typecast role as the "pretty boy" in his earlier films. He starred in Friday Night Lights, and played Achilles' cousin Patroclus in Troy; I think his best performance (prior to Death Sentence) was as one of the titular Four Brothers in John Singleton's 2005 movie. The cast stood out as one of the strong points of the film, with the exception of some unintended laughs from the audience due to intense over-acting in questionable situations. Over-acting aside, they did a great job pulling the emotion out of the viewer and really making you feel for the characters.
Australian director James Wan (Saw, the unintentionally hilarious-looking Dead Silence) really did a great job putting this film together. The pacing was great, the style was awesome, and there were some really cool long one-shots, which I always enjoy watching. There were never any bright colors showcased, instead favoring a muted color palette which added to the bleakness of the movie (hearkening back to the visual flair of Saw). The progression of Bacon's character as he spiraled out of control was nicely portrayed and even the music, which rarely stands out to me in films, added to the intense emotional drama involved in the story. The camera work was great, using crane shots to drop us in on the different groups of characters and give a "slice of life" feel to the whole process.
The movie definitely drew on previous material for inspiration, with similarities to Falling Down, The Punisher, Man on Fire, and Taxi Driver that can't be ignored. It's even based on a book by the writer of Death Wish, the 1970's revenge flick that defined the genre. And with Jodie Foster's The Brave One coming out soon, this begs the question: are revenge movies on the rise again? Some claim the political landscape of our country right now is similar to the feelings of the 1970's and early 80's, when crime rates in large cities skyrocketed and people felt helpless and angry because they couldn't control the growing problem. This time, its our situation in Iraq that people are feeling hopeless about, so they need some sort of cathartic release to help forget about their problems. Aisha Tyler's character says at one point "Everyone thinks they're right in a war, but everyone dies in the end."
I for one mostly agree with this point of view, but I also think that coincidence definitely plays a role. Just because two movies of the same genre come out at the same time, does that qualify as a "resurgence of the genre?" I don't think so. If that was the case, then we've had so many genre resurgences over the years that it's not even funny: Antz and A Bug's Life, Deep Impact and Armageddon, the list goes on. I think that at least three movies of the same genre have to come out in the same season for it to be considered a real resurgence AND two out of the three movies have to do really well at the box office.
I thought this movie was all about relationships with the father figure. The gang members didn't have it, so they resorted to a brotherhood amongst themselves. Kevin Bacon's family was obviously a main part of this, with the "golden boy" child killed early in the film and the artistic younger child coping with the guilt of "should it have been me instead?" The leader of the gang had a terrible relationship with his father, and (I'm not going to give it away) that was certainly resolved in an interesting manner. Even Kevin Bacon's relationship with authority, the Uncle Sam father figure, was an interesting look at James Wan's political decisions - generally when you make the police completely useless in a film, you're trying to say something about the state of our country.
Overall, I thought it was worth seeing. The violence is concentrated into a few harsh scenes, so it's not completely bloody throughout, and watching Bacon's transformation is mesmerizing. Give it a "shot," and check this one out. It's not a must-see-in-the-theater kind of movie, since there aren't any amazing graphics or anything that deserves big screen treatment, so if you don't get to it now then definitely give it a rent. If you try to look a little deeper, I think you'll be pleased with it. Until next time...