Death Sentence

Dir: James Wan, 2007


Author Brian Garfield, has never been happy with the film adaptation of his vigilante novel, Death Wish or any of the subsequent sequels. The 1974 Michael Winner movie, used the book as a response to the rising crime rate and to give cinemagoers what they wanted: lashings of violence and a sense of retribution.

However, Garfield intended the novel to be a story against vigilantism, whereas the movie, in many ways, celebrated it. His follow up novel, Death Sentence, was Garfield’s answer to the film.

Death Wish II had nothing to do with the book, and was a completely standalone film, taking the series in any direction the public wanted it to go. Although James Wan’s 2007 film is VERY loosely based on the book, Garfield’s point about vigilantism and the consequences that such an act carries, is evident here; albeit in a rather hypocritical way.

Removing the gloss and sheen that lacquered Winner’s films, Wan paints being a vigilante as the self-destructive and, ultimately, futile act that it is. But, the violence that accompanies the director’s righteousness, is shot with a fervent and frenzied pace, relishing every blow and impact that lands on heads and faces.

Hypocrisy aside, Death Sentence is a damn good film. Both brutal and nasty, the action is exciting, thrilling us with its no holds barred visceral ferocity.

Kevin Bacon is phenomenally good as the crushed and devastated dad of a murder victim. Not known as an action star, this film allows the Footloose actor to spread his wings a bit and show the world what’s hidden beneath.

Like Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver, Bacon superbly shows the slow mental decline of a broken man, brought on by loss and heartbreak. But, ironically, that is a problem in itself.

The entire last reel, is a Taxi Driver rip off. It’s literally scene for scene. Director Wan walks us through a montage of our protagonist familiarising himself with guns, shaving his head and losing the little grip of sanity he has left. It’s at that point that Wan finally runs out of imagination, and just lifts everything from the Martin Scorsese classic.

Yet, it’s incredibly difficult to criticise him as it fits brilliantly in the film and provides the entertainment that you could ask for. At the end of the day, films are meant to entertain and Wan knows this, so plagiarising Martin Scorsese, in this capacity, is no big deal.

Once again, John Goodman steals the film with a brilliant performance as the vicious top dog of a gang of criminals. Sweating and swearing his way through the film, Goodman airs menace and fear, becoming frighteningly believable.

Brutal, bloody and violent, Death Sentence holds a well deserved place in the history of cinema.

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