Before I post my thoughts on the just released DEATH SENTENCE, I would like to point out what a beauty the One Sheet is. It is rare that I go to the theater anymore and see a poster that really grabs my attention but this very foreboding and intense seventies style sheet really hits me.
I must admit that I am a big fan of vigilante films. From Michael Winner's DEATH WISH to William Lusig's VIGILANTE or Abel Ferrara's MS 45 to Nobert Meisle's WALKING THE EDGE, it is a genre that I really love. So I was really curious to see DEATH SENTENCE, a film based on the follow up novel to DEATH WISH starring one of America's most undervalued actors, Kevin Bacon.
Despite some heavy lapses in logic and some unfortunate music choices, DEATH SENTENCE is one of the most surprisingly effective films of the summer, and one of the most brutal. The thing that really struck me while watching it was just how un-Hollywood it seems, this is a hard hitting and ugly film that really delivers on the violence in ways that I wasn't expecting for a present day studio picture.
DEATH SENTENCE has two big things going for it. First is director James Wan's impressive and at times audacious visual style. There is a scene halfway through this film that rivals last years CHILDREN OF MEN as being among the most thrilling apparent one shot takes I have seen in a long time. This is actually the first Wan film I have seen but I have just put the first SAW in my Netflix que because this guy knows what he is doing behind the camera. Even at its most illogical or overblown, Wan handles the material and look of the film incredibly well. This is particularly true in the latter half, this is one film that truly does get better as it goes along, where Wan delivers a real sense of dread and destiny that reminded me of the great Vigilante films of the past.
The other great thing DEATH SENTENCE has going for it is Kevin Bacon. Bacon is a guy who has been around for thirty years now. He has never been nominated for an Oscar, he has never been among the most bankable stars in the world, but for the last three decades he has done consistently great work and in DEATH SENTENCE he gives one of his best performances. He really sells the tragedy of this guy who loses everything, including his spirit. Bacon is also a really beautiful guy whose face has aged in a striking way. Much of that warm and sweet young energy has worn off into a real hardened, haunting stare that is nearly impossible to look away from.
Also great in the film is Kelly Preston, another actor who has consistently delivered good work for more than two decades now with very little accolades. She is really quite moving in this part and it is one of the best performances of her career.
DEATH SENTENCE isn't perfect. Charles Clouser delivers a fine score that is undermined with some out of place vocal tracks and John R. Leonetti's photography is a little too slick at times (although for the most part it is fine). Some of the plotting and set ups are a bit too contrived but this is a film you should just go with, although apparently most critics and audience members aren't as it looks like it has flopped critically and financially.
I found DEATH SENTENCE to be a fine addition to the vigilante genre. I will hold off from a more detailed review until I can see it again but I highly recommend it for anyone who likes their film making hard and intense. DEATH SENTENCE's failure with the critics and public shows that I really don't have any idea what people like anymore, but in a political and social climate that is getting as unstable as when the original DEATH WISH cames out, I would say that DEATH SENTENCE will find its audience sooner rather than later.