A man with nothing to lose is capable of anything. Revenge is an age-old tale that will never get tired. With the success of Death Wish in 1974, based on the book of the same name by Brian Garfield, it told the story of a man whose family is attacked by a group of men that leaves his wife dead and his daughter forever changed. The father (Charles Bronson) took matters into his own hands and sought out to “clean the streets” of criminals. Death Wish spawned four sequels that praised the idea of vigilantism instead of the consequences of what can happen when you have crossed the point of no return.
Death Sentence is the sequel to the Death Wish novel and as a film feels more realistic in that there are consequences to the choices that we make. The film is brutal, in your face and relentless in its violence which may defer people away. When I first saw Death Wish I enjoyed Charles Bronson’s performance but I didn’t like the idea of the cops not going after him for murder. Sure, he killed criminals but there are laws that prohibit people from vigilantism. As a film, I could see why it was popular; an ordinary man doing the right thing, but the ending left more to be desired.
James Wan (Saw) gave us Death Sentence and explored what can happen when chaos breaks loose. It’s somewhat like Death Wish in that a family suffers a great loss. Nick Hume (Kevin Bacon) is a successful man with a loving family who witnesses his son brutally attacked at a gas station. It turns out that it was an initiation killing for a kid to be accepted into a gang. The law is on the father’s side but as for justice, little can be said. The choices that Nick makes brings about a series of events that changes his life.
The film doesn’t make time for heavy character building as we know who the good guy is and who the gang is. It gets right to the point and doesn’t look back. For me, Death Sentence succeeds in telling what vigilantism can do to someone. After his tragic loss, Nick only sees who’s responsible and does something that is foolish, but for him it was a measure of balancing out the equation of good and evil. The result is violent, bloody and teaches us a lesson- never solve violence with violence.
The supporting cast does a good job which includes Kelly Preston (Casino Jack) and Jordan Garrett (Thank You For Smoking) as Nick’s wife and son respectively. Garrett Hedlund (Eragon) is nearly unrecognizable and Billy Darley, the leader of the gang that killed Nick’s older son Brenden (Stuart Lafferty). John Goodman is great as the mean-spirited father to Billy. I love the look that he had wearing different glasses when the situation suited him. Aisha Taylor (Watch Dogs) is the Detective on the case and even offers advice to Nick when the pressure starts to squeeze him when his family is threatened.
Now some people may shake their heads at this film for some of the situations that happen. Perhaps some will say “Now wait a minute, that’s ridiculous” and sure I can agree with you. Death Sentence is violent and perhaps out of the realm of realism, but that’s why it’s a movie. There are some great moments of suspense. One of the best scenes is this extended chase sequence that ends with a nice long tracking shot. This film may be ugly to some because we feel bad for Nick’s character and all that he has lost, but we don’t root for him either to succeed in the things that he’s doing. I wonder why we felt the need to do so with Death Wish?
With the announcement of a remake of Death Wish releasing this November starring Bruce Willis and helmed by Eli Roth (Hostel), I wonder if there’s going to be any difference to the original film? Will we agree with taking the law into our hands the way Bernhard Goetz did back in 1984? With Death Sentence the film wasn’t afraid to show the reality of the decisions we make when we choose to cross that line. In fact, Brian Garfield gave thumbs up to Death Sentence saying “While I could have done with a bit less blood-and-thunder, I think it’s a stunningly good movie. In the details of its story it’s quite different from the novel, but it’s a movie, not a novel. In its cinematic way it connects with its audience and it makes the same point the book makes, and those are the things that count.” He also liked that, like his novels, but unlike the Death Wish film series, it does not advocate.
Death Sentence is a film that I think is overlooked due to underperforming at the box office and garnered mixed reviews from critics. Personally, I enjoyed the grittiness of the film and liked the development of what happens to Nick that sort of reminded me of the Max Payne character. The violence is fast, brutal and relentless but I think it’s a better film that any of the other Death Wish movies that became laughable with its sequels
It’s only a wonder to me to see how Eli Roth handles the remake.