Review in a Hurry: A father's grief leads to wigged-out mayhem in this gruesome revenge thriller. Kevin Bacon's taut performance elevates Death Sentence slightly, but the trouble is, the film's still five feet under.
The Bigger Picture: Saw director James Wan seems to be expanding. No longer content to torture his characters, he's moved on to torturing audiences, too. Death Sentence opens promisingly enough, with insurance executive Nick Hume (Bacon) enjoying his not-quite-perfect-but-pretty-close family life, only to see it shattered by the death of his son in a random gang slaying.
Rather than see his son's killer get an insultingly short sentence, Nick lies in court and sets him free, only to hunt the guilty party down later and perform about the sloppiest premeditated murder possible. (For a guy who analyzes risks for a living, Nick takes a lot of stupid ones, and yet he's still not the dumbest thing in Death Sentence.) This inspires the gang to declare war on Nick's remaining family, pinning the crime on Nick because they are, apparently, much smarter and more industrious than the police in Nick's universe.
What results is a couple-three bloodbaths that might be compelling if they weren't substantially more senseless than necessary. Instead, they're just disturbing, punctuated by unintentional laughs.
Nick's instability is understandable, given his grief, but nothing else in Death Sentence is remotely plausible, and otherwise effective twists in the plot keep painting the story into a corner.
You're supposed to buy, for example, that the cops aren't interested in doing anything but keeping a close eye on Nick after the gang murders two police officers.
It's this kind of slip that betrays the faux-grit aesthetic. In the real world, a vigilante like Nick would have to take a number and get in line; in movieland, he's the period at the end of a pointless, bloody run-on sentence.
The 180—a Second Opinion: Taken in unconnected pieces by someone with a very short attention span—like, Memento-short—Death Sentence is quite gripping. A tense foot chase through a parking ramp, shot in long, breathless takes, is in itself a fine short film.