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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Death Sentence (review)

Mad Muck

Okay, tell me this: Are implements such as scythes and machetes typically found in the garages of upper-middle-class suburbanites? I ask merely for information, because the middle-middle-class suburb I grew up in, we could find maybe a screwdriver in the garage, and I suppose that could have been sharpened into a lethal weapon if necessary, but still. Do rich people typically have farm implements at their disposal? It seems weird to me that they would.
Kevin Bacon’s (Where the Truth Lies, Beauty Shop) got one of each — scythe and machete — in his garage in Death Sentence. He’s a white-shirt-wearing, window-office-occupying corporate cog at an insurance company. Surely the biggest danger he is in would be from, you know, paper cuts on the risk-analysis reports he handles on a daily basis. Right? How did he know to have such deadly tools at the ready?

But wait! Bacon’s Nick Hume lives in a world that’s a right-wing wet dream, one in which anarchic, immoral “animals” run amuck in the streets; cities are destitute, rundown hellholes of lawlessness; and the cops, when you ask them for assistance, tell you, “God help you.” Seriously, that happens here. I was waiting for the cop to tell Kevin, “Vaya con dios,” in that way that means, “You crazy bastard, what are you thinking, expecting civilization in this cesspit?” like he was in some badass old-fashioned Western. Cuz he is. Except this is, you know, Cleveland, or somewhere. I mean, what is this: Baghdad under American occupation? Or is it America America, where decent upstanding white folk are preyed upon by the scum of the earth?

Yeah, it’s the latter. And the only way for a decent upstanding white man to get justice is to take matters into his own hands. Cuz not only are the cops useless, the criminal justice system is a joke, too, as Nick learns, to his prissy little-girl horror, when his golden-boy teenage son Brendan (Stuart Lafferty) is killed by “an animal” during a robbery that isn’t a robbery but a gang “initiation.” Because our ungovernable cities are overrun — overrun, I tell you — by gangbangers out to slaughter nice upstanding folk for no reason but thrills.

And that’s a good thing, because it leaves room for a man to be a man, not some pissy cubicle drone. Give him some guns, and let him run amuck, righteously, on the garbage-strewn, scumbag-infested streets of America — this situation is, presumably, the fault of teh libruls, but hey: it allows for some way-cool revenge, so it’s okay. So what if the deck has to be ridiculously stacked against poor Nick and his nice family. This is reality, man… or at least reality as it should be, so that real manly men could put things to right, so that reality would be a little closer to nice. Like… the way… it kinda is… now…

Hmmm. Look, it’s not as if the world were perfect, but it’s nowhere near the Mad Max apocalypse Death Sentence would have us think it is. Why must it create caricatures of criminals and of our criminal justice system to make whatever point it’s trying to make? Why does it think it’s serious drama when it’s actually something closer to a parody of Charles Bronson movies? (The film in based, in fact, on the novel of the same name by Brian Garfield, who also wrote Death Wish, upon which the Bronson movie was based.) Did director James Wan (Saw) think it was enough to throw a sickly gray-green tinge on everything, and that that would make us go weak in the knees for a Man(TM) to save us from ourselves?

Kevin Bacon wipes up some of his own blood — oozing from a wound acquired when he went after his son’s killer — with one of those very risk-analysis reports he’s been devoting his attention on, and then you get it. Okay: real men don’t waste time on risk analysis, they just blow shotgun holes in bad guys big enough to, well, drive idiotic plots through. So what if Death Sentence is that perfect storm of moviemaking, a film consisting entirely of false notes, a film that thinks it’s complex and smart but is really simple and stupid? Real men don’t worry about not being preposterous. They just worry about shotgun caliber.

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MPAA: rated R for strong bloody brutal violence and pervasive language

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb
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  • fuggle

    The worst thing about this movie (in my mind) is (based on the trailers, all I’ve seen), he’s trying to Defend His Family against The Animals who’re Coming For Them … but the only reason his family is in danger /to begin with/ is because he tried to take “Justice” into his own hands to begin with.

    And I’m betting that if that IS the case, the point is completely ignored in this movie, and for it, everyone who’s “good” instead of an “animal” gets off unscathed from this war he started – right?

    Oi.

  • Chuck

    Shotguns generally have a gauge rather than a caliber, but I can’t fault the analysis.

  • Ace

    “And the only way for a decent upstanding white man to get justice is to take matters into his own hands. Cuz not only are the cops useless, the criminal justice system is a joke, too,”

    Sounds about right. The criminal justice system is a joke. What else explains the fact that so many serial child rapists are only dealt with AFTER they finally murder a child. Illegal immigrants who violate the immigration laws tirelessly are only dealt with after they murder young college students in New Jersey execution style.

    We’re too busy trying to “heal” and discover the human side in everyone that we fail to consider the stark number of people murdered by felons given the chance by our embarrassing parole system.

    Not to mention the liberals’ greatest gift to criminals: The Furlough program.

  • Signal30

    Now I’m curious as to how “New Jersey execution style” differs from any other execution style. Does the screen Cut To Black before you hear the shots?

    But as someone that sorta likes the whole vigilante shoot ’em up thang, I still want to see one where the hero winds up realizing that he knocked off the wrong gang of street thugs…

  • 20

    From my point of view, the brutal gang
    just mess up with the wrong guy. They start a war
    to a seemingly innocent guy by killing his son.
    Hein! Not all well dressed man is kind. Forget about
    the hero as a kind man that just want to protect his family. A good mannered animal against animals.

  • Shadowen

    Is it me, or is it telling of the attitude of this film that the judge who dismisses the case against the killer is a woman?

  • Doa766

    it’s spell “vaya con Dios”, and it means “god be with you”

  • OMGImAComicFanboyLOL

    Any chance for us getting a 3:10 to Yuma review? Or did I just miss it?

  • Ide Cyan

    This is going to be an interesting case for comparison with the upcoming Neil Jordan film about vigilantism starring Jodie Foster.

  • MaryAnn

    I’ll review *Yuma* next week. It doesn’t open till next Friday (Sunday’s sneak preview aside).

    The criminal justice system is a joke.

    It may have problems, but it’s nowhere near the disaster it is in this movie.

    it’s spell “vaya con Dios”

    Doh! I knew that — thanks for pointing out my typo. I’ve fixed it now.

  • Laura Dickerson

    I live in a wealthy suburb. I have a scythe, and would be happy to have a machete. I admit that I am
    one of three people on my whole block without a paid
    lawn service, though. Probably people who don’t need
    to hack back encroaching vegetation wouldn’t have such
    implements of destruction.

  • MBI

    I’ll have you know that in my garage I have a scythe, machete, buzzsaw, bandsaw, handsaw, hacksaw, jigsaw, chainsaw, hedge clippers, spare lawnmower blades, threshing machine, four different axes including one pickax, and a kaiser blade, some folks call it a sling blade, I call it a kaiser blade, mmmhrmmm. By “garage” I actually mean the storage facility in my apartment complex, I don’t have a lawn or anything worth cutting or sawing. But you never know.

  • MBI

    As a side note, did you know that some vans you can just tear right in fucking half if you hit it with a car? It seems like they’d make those things safer than that, but I understand that it may have been one of those old-model vans, from back when they were made out of tinfoil and graham crackers.

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