Image courtesy of www.impawards.com
Kevin Bacon ……….Nick Hume
Garrett Hedlund……….Billy Darley
Kelly Preston ……….Helen Hume
Jordan Garrett……….Lucas Hume
Stuart Lafferty……….Brendan Hume
Aisha Tyler……….Detective Wallis
John Goodman……….Bones Darley
During Chris Rock’s infamous monologue as he hosted the Academy Awards, he opined that producers should wait if they can’t get a certain actor for a part, and are left with someone of lesser stature. He remarked that if you wanted Sean Penn and could only get Jude Law, or if you wanted Denzel Washington and all you could get was Rock, then wait. Apparently he forgot one comparison as well. If you want Kiefer Sutherland, and all you can get is Kevin Bacon, wait!
Bacon stars as Nick Hume in Death Sentence, a revenge film, as a father whose son is murdered and subsequently wages a one man war against the skinheads and other degenerates who killed his son and threatened the rest of his family. Based on the same book franchise that spawned Death Wish, Bacon wanders into the territory once assumed by Charles Bronson as a man out for revenge in a basic, almost primordial way. It’s a fresh take on the genre on a visceral level but really isn’t engaging on anything but that level.
For James Wan, the creative mind behind the Saw series, the film is just an action movie version of the horror franchise: all style and no substance. The film itself is engaging because he does a lot with the camera that’s unexpected; Wan takes a lot of clichÃ©d shots like chase scenes and adds some gravitas to them that are unexpected and unique. During the main action sequences he does a lot of terrific things both with his camera as well as his cast. But the problem with Death Sentence, one which plagued the Saw franchise, is in its script.
Mainly in the relatively banal dialogue, the film’s storyline feels like a revenge film in fast forward, stopping awkwardly throughout. The opening sequences between Hume and his family, which should be there to give a sense of loss for Nick, end up being a bit out of place because they focus much less on something emotional and instead focus much more on the physical. What he’s losing is given more of an importance than why he’s losing it; there’s a disconnect when Bacon goes from playing a character with an almost ideal life to a man who’s lost everything including part of his humanity. There’s a reason to care why and get behind him, but it’s much more because we’re supposed to as opposed to the audience grasping the full of why we should rally behind Nick as he goes after his sweet revenge.
Those sequences are the meat of the film and definitely the only reason to see the film. Bacon is game for the action and it’s done on a much more visceral level than the usual action film shenanigans; Bacon is an insurance adjustor and throughout the film manages to beat the odds by merely out-smarting the other guy as opposed to hopping into a phone booth and jumping out a meat-eating super assassin. Bacon looks and is built like an average guy; he’s in terrific shape for the film but he won’t be confused for Sylvester Stallone anytime in the near future.
In the film’s final moments, there’s a terrific moment rarely seen in revenge movies. Wan crafts the final third of the film in a way that wrenches the heart beautifully, and yet getting there is sometimes a bit laborious. While the world really didn’t need another take on Death Wish after the plethora of sequels that Bronson starred in, Death Sentence is like a poor man’s version of 2004’s Man on Fire. It’s a gritty action film that stands apart from Rush Hour 3 and its ilk, as it’s a much dirtier action film than what’s out there, but in the end the film’s incessant need to be profane makes the ever increasing silliness of the dialogue become more transparent.
FINAL RATING (ON A SCALE OF 1-5 BUCKETS):