Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Death Sentence


Directed by: James Wan
Screenplay: Ian Jeffers
Starring: Kevin Bacon, Garret Hedlund, Kelly Preston & John Goodman

A blistering action revenge thriller, Death Sentence is a full on vigilante flick. In this day and age of watered down everything, Death Sentence looks and plays like a great 80s action film and despite the stars and gloss is a grind house flick at heart. The story of a successful family man (Bacon) taking vengeance on those who wrongly took the life of his son is hardly anything revolutionary but it’s all in the execution: emotional impact, some finely constructed action scenes and a downward spiral for the main character that refuses to let there be a happy outcome.

James Wan (the director of the original, and best, Saw) crafts a riveting revenge thriller that has just enough twists and turns and emotional connection to make it more than its violent set pieces. It may not be the most subtle critique of violence and vengeance but in cinematic terms it delivers the best kind of revenge thriller that hasn’t been seen since the genre’s heyday in the 70s and 80s. Kevin Bacon, one of the most underrated and consistently impressive Hollywood actors is the core of the film, delivering a performance that shows his character’s vulnerability and ineptitude as well as his determination to right the wrong and (when pushed to the limit) adapt to dangerous circumstances when needed. He still retains an everyman feel about him, even when proving handy with a shotgun, meaning he is much more of an emotionally engaging character than a one liner sprouting action hero (though they have their place in cinema as well). Garret Hedlund (Four Brothers) is also memorable, cutting a fierce villain as the head of the gang that slays Bacon’s son and there is quality support from Kelly Preston, Jordan Garret and John Goodman.

The flick may be glossy but it doesn’t hold back in the violence and on screen justice. While never overly gory or relentlessly violent, Death Sentence still packs a punch when it comes to dishing out scumbag annihilating action. Wan infuses the action with kineticism, the camera often roving and running with the actors creating a real sense of momentum. A foot chase cum fight within a car fast approaching the top edge of a multi storey car park is a breathless piece of action and is jacked up with intensity as a good chunk of it unfolds in one single take. Likewise a home invasion scene and the climatic shotgun blasting finale show that Wan is just as capable at crafting intense action as he is horror.

Despite a few flaws in logic and the occasional slip into silliness (the bit where a car gets driven through a van, severing it completely in two, is just a little over the top); Death Sentence is pure unadulterated action revenge entertainment. The polar opposite in terms of execution to Jodie Foster’s similar The Brave One (itself another excellent if more thoughtful, though no less violent, revenge thriller), Death Sentence showcases the talents of a great actor, a blossoming director and some barnstorming action.

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