A white-collar revenge fantasy in the vein of DEATH WISH (and based on a novel by the same author, Brian Garfield), DEATH SENTENCE ponders the nature and limits of retribution, asking if murder can ever be justified. Director James Wan (SAW) delivers a high-end exploitation film, complete with a washed-out, grainy appearance and some startling violence, but with complex, thrilling action sequences.
Kevin Bacon is Nick Hume, a successful businessman with two children and a lovely wife (Kelly Preston). While driving home from his older, college-bound son's hockey game, Nick must pull into a gas station in a tough part of town. When the boy goes into the store to buy a drink, his throat is slit during a bloody robbery attempt. Nick identifies the killer, but with him as the only witness, the case is unable to go to trial. Discovering that the murder was merely a gang initiation, Nick is pushed over the edge, taking on the deadly gang headed by the fierce Billy Darley (Garrett Hedlund). Payback becomes all-encompassing for Nick: it not only takes over his life, but it also causes a startling physical transformation. Wan forgoes emotional impact in favor of souped-up, visceral, and occasionally thrilling setpieces. Bacon makes Nick's transformation from a suburban, suit-and-tie family man into a gaunt, shaved-headed angel of death startling and believable. Full of interesting contradictions, DEATH SENTENCE lets viewers have it both ways--fulfilling their bloodlust while ensuring that Nick's targets are despicable people who deserve their fates. Ultimately, though it serves to remind us that, as a solution, violence only begets more violence.