An oppressive exercise in thematic redundancy, Death Sentence focuses on white collar archetype Nick Hume (Kevin Bacon) – a lovable and loving everyman, husband and father of two sons as unfathomable tragedy strikes, claiming the life of his oldest boy. As Nick continually reels in the aftermath of the responsible hoodlum’s acquittal, he foolishly takes matters into his own hands, thus sparking an increasingly violent and entirely avoidable blood feud. Who will prevail and, more importantly, who cares?
From the get-go, the proceedings reek of basally cloying exposition, all of which is meant to build a sympathy stash for us to tap into following the loss of Nick’s son. Key relationships fall flat in the wake of sheer cheese and – unfortunately – emotionality takes a backseat to heavy-handed eye-for-an-eye impetuses. Following the delivery of initial deathblows, the film awkwardly employs a muddled dual-sympathy card – one that alternately brands both now-vengeful parties as monsters in each others’ eyes. Is Nick becoming the type of monster that took his son? Is Billy (Garrett Hedlund) merely a gangland-abiding victim of circumstance? Either/or, we all know the answers we once sought as the events that transpire speak for themselves.
In the realm of technical proficiency, director Wan finds solace in several key sequences benchmarked by a particularly involving and, oddly enough, appropriately overlong parking garage set piece. Putting aside the qualms one might have with Nick’s surprising physical finesse and previously absent killer instinct, Death Sentence‘s brutality becomes more resonant than the driving force behind the aforementioned motives of everyone involved. It’s at this point that the entire production falls to shit whilst banking on a wafer-thin man-with-nothing-left-to-lose mantra, you know, the kind that’s employed in a jarringly bombastic attempt to hold viewers’ interests.
While I’m not denying that people gravitate toward and subsequently like this type of film, I personally had a hard time figuring out the reasoning behind its existence. Are Nick Hume’s actions justified? Yes and no – an uncertain answer that’s destined to spark the sole discussion you’d expect to have at such a juncture. Technical proclivity aside, Death Sentence‘s motives are too transparent, its commentary on the fine line between right and wrong ringing entirely ineffective as Kevin Bacon’s efforts pale in comparison to an all-encompassing ineptitude. If anything, it’s an uncharacteristically grim affair that doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities procured by its characters’ actions.