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Death Sentence (Unrated) DVD Review

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Theatrical Release: August 31, 2007 / Running Time: 111 Minutes (Unrated Version) / Rating: Not Rated (Theatrical Cut: R)

Director:: James Wan

Cast: 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), Matt O'Leary (Joe Darley), Edi Gathegi (Bodie), Hector Atreyu Ruiz (Heco), Kanin J. Howell (Baggy), Dennis Keiffer (Jamie), Freddy Bouciegues (Tommy), Leigh Whannell (Spink), Casey Pieretti (Dog)

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By Christopher Disher

James Wan first shocked audiences in 2004 with his grueling and profitable film Saw. He turned a $1.2 million production into a $103 million international success. Distributor Lions Gate walked around happy with the deal and three sequels ensued. Three years later, Wan gets gritty in a different way with Death Sentence.
Although the film brings nothing new to the table in story or style, it is violent, bloody, and gratuitous enough to garner attention from the adolescent crowd and less critical action/thriller junkies. Unlike Saw, which horrified with its painful and other worldly scenarios, Death Sentence attempts to win the audience's support with an inordinate amount of shooting and edgy violence.

The film opens with a very comfortable horror-thriller type structure and introduces the viewer to the happy life soon to be wrought into turmoil. Kevin Bacon stars as Nick Hume, an ordinary man turned vigilante father by the senseless killing of his son. With no evidence against his son's killer, Hume, the murder's only witness, and his lawyer decide to offer the defendant a plea bargain sentence of three years in prison. When it comes time for Hume to present himself as a witness, he backs down from his position, letting his son's killer free and giving Hume the opportunity to take justice into his own hands. The expected spiral of killings ensues, entrapping the two opposing forces in a deadly and juvenile game of returning punches, so to speak.

Nick Hume (Kevin Bacon) stares down his son's killer celebrating his new, but soon to be brief, freedom. Gang leader Billy Darley (Garrett Hedlund) about to do something really, really bad.

The movie hinges on its shock factor, which isn't saying much because few scenes are truly shocking. The story serves the violence more than the violence serves the story and the only characterization we get from the antagonists are strings of foul language, particularly the "f" word. The leader of the gang, Billy Darley (Garrett Hedlund), a tattooed ruffian whose father (John Goodman) is also his drug boss, is always one step behind his new and novice enemy. He and his gang leave a lot to be desired and are so one-dimensional that the final three-quarters of the film are completely predictable. Still, what's likely going to bring this film success in the home video arena is its edgy approach.

The filmmaking style is very cinematic, if by "cinematic" one is really referring to a music video style. The constant obtuse camera angles, the ceaseless moving frame, quick cuts, and the high-contrast and washed out look
all make Death Sentence feel more like an agonizingly long Linkin Park video than a feature film. It gives the adolescent demographic and pretentious film student something to be giddy over, but the moviegoer with a conscious brain will likely be repulsed after the first half-hour.

What adds insult to injury are the attempts to moralize on killing. The film's mentions of war, equilibrium, and the struggle of good versus evil lightly hint at the concept of moral relativism and may bring to mind the action-reaction nature of the global fight against terrorism. At times, Death Sentence seems to strive for more than entertainment with an array of hopelessly melodramatic scenes between the father and still-living son. Such scenes would usually provide depth and reason for the main character's actions but here they feel cheap and forced to the point of being laughable.

People begin to suspect the life Nick Hume leads may be filled with more than paperwork and phone calls. Bones Darley (John Goodman) looking a little scary but mostly humorous as he threatens a customer.

Another particularly annoying trait is the false ending, the details of which will not be mentioned here. While it serves to make the film more dynamic, it also makes it lag far too often. The result is a roller coaster with far too many hills and too little loops and surprises.

As a whole, Wan fails at creating anything truly engaging. The gun battles may excite for a few moments and the feeling of rooting for the everyday man turned badass may be enough for a few to warrant a rental.

A little over four months since opening in theaters, Death Sentence arrives exclusively on DVD. Though the banner proclaims this an Unrated Edition, the disc provides both the theatrical cut and the extended cut that runs ten minutes longer.

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2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Surround (Spanish)
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
Closed Captioned; Extras No Subtitled
Release Date: January 8, 2008
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)


For this review, I had only a watermarked screener disc, which compresses the content of the final product to a single layer and is not remotely a good indicator of the actual quality. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix provides a nice sound experience, but levels are poorly balanced with the music overbearing at times, even over gunfire. The center channel remains clear and surrounds are used to good effect throughout. Due to the stylized post-processing, the 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation delivered picture that was painful to look at. The highlights were blown out and the sky was rarely blue, just extremely white.

Director James Wan considers a possible angle for the next action shot. Kevin Bacon discusses his method of acting in "Life After Film School." Characters continually look threatening through the DVD's hole-in-the-wall Special Features menu.


It's always interesting to see how complicated sequences are shot. In "Fox Movie Channel Presents: Making a Scene" (9:59), the filmmakers talk about two action sequences, explaining how they custom-built multiple rigs to achieve the desired effect. The engaging and informative short piece certainly sheds some light on the motivations of director James Wan.

Like any film school discussion, "Fox Movie Channel Presents: Life After Film School with Kevin Bacon" (19:09)
mostly regurgitates what any film student already knows. The three interviewers, all film students, ask Kevin Bacon basic questions about his methods, advice for actors, and the craft itself.

A collection of ten Webisodes (18:09 total) from the official Death Sentence website are preserved here. They are: "Director James Wan", "Transforming Nick Hume", "The Cars", "Creating the Character Billy Darley", "James Wan: From Horror to Action", "Making the Garage Sequence", "Fight Choreography and Stunts", "Shooting the Chase", "Designing the Look", and "The Car Drop". Sometimes repetitive, these shorts are still upbeat enough to entertain and inform.

Rounding out the disc are trailers for Live Free or Die Hard, Sunshine, Joshua, and Cover.

The menus share the gritty look of the film and the same intense music plays in the background. The layout is simple to navigate and the transitions are brief enough not to be annoying. The viewer has the choice of watching either the theatrical cut or the unrated version.

James Wan mimics "The Crow" with his version of a slow-motion tough-guy shot in center frame. Gang members celebrate the release of their new inductee, a cold-blooded killer.


Death Sentence shared a theatrical run with another revenge film, Jodie Foster's The Brave One. The former opened first and fared worse with critics, but neither drew much attention or is likely to expand beyond its niche for a while. With all of the good movies from 2007, Death Sentence is low on the list of success both critically and at the box office. Nevertheless, it may be an exciting and entertaining film for just the right audience.

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Reviewed January 8, 2008.

Text copyright 2008 Images copyright 2007 20th Century Fox Pictures and 2008 20th Century Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.