Death Sentence (2007 film)

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Death Sentence
Promotional film poster
Directed by James Wan
Produced by
Written by Ian Mackenzie Jeffers
Based on Death Sentence 
by Brian Garfield
Music by Charlie Clouser
Cinematography John R. Leonetti
Edited by Michael N. Knue
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release dates
  • August 31, 2007 (2007-08-31)
Running time
105 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $20 million[1]
Box office $17 million[2]

Death Sentence is a 2007 American psychological thriller action film loosely based on the 1975 novel of the same name by Brian Garfield. Directed by Saw director James Wan, the film stars Kevin Bacon as Nick Hume, a man who takes the law into his own hands after his son is murdered by a gang as an initiation ritual. Hume must protect his family from the gang's resulting vengeance. The film premiered on August 31, 2007, and was released on DVD on January 8, 2008.


Nick Hume (Kevin Bacon) is husband to Helen (Kelly Preston), and father of two boys, Brendan (Stuart Lafferty) and Lucas (Jordan Garrett). After Brendan's hockey game, Nick and Brendan drive home, talking about the latter's potential future as a professional hockey player. They make a quick stop at a gas station in a very bad part of town. During an ostensible robbery of the gas station, Joe Darley (Matt O'Leary), a new initiate and younger brother to the gang leader, slices Brendan's throat open with a machete. Nick attempts to ambush the thugs, managing to pull off Joe's mask and see his face, but Joe escapes, only to be hit by a car. Nick rushes Brendan to the hospital, but his son dies from major blood loss.

Nick identifies Joe in a line-up. When meeting with the district attorney, he's upset that the DA hopes to present a strong enough case that the defense will cut a deal for a mere 3 to 5 years in jail. The DA explains that Nick is the only witness, there were no surveillance cameras, and the defense could gain sympathy for Darley. At a pre-trial hearing, Nick recants his identification so that Joe will go free. He follows the gang to see where they hide out, later returning and stabbing Joe upon finding him alone. The next morning, the gang leader, Billy (Garrett Hedlund), wants revenge. After quickly discounting members of other gangs as culprits, one says that his sister saw a man in a suit that night. Confirming it was Nick from a picture published in a newspaper, and seeing where he works, they ambush him the next day on the street. After chasing him through alleys, a restaurant, then to the top of a multi-story parking garage, Nick gets into a fight with one. Nick traps him in a car that he sends over the edge of the lot.

However, Nick dropped his briefcase during the chase. The gang members find it, along with his wallet inside, then have one member return it personally to Nick's office. Nick finds that in his wallet photos, his wife and two sons are crossed out. There's a phone number, which Nick calls. On the other end of the line, Billy warns that Nick has bought a "death sentence" for his family, and reveals that Joe Darley was his brother. Nick immediately calls the police detective assigned to Brendan's case, Jessica Wallis (Aisha Tyler), who was already aware of what Nick started. She grants Nick's family police protection and issues APBs on Billy and his gang. That night, the officers watching over the family are stealthily killed. When Nick hears one body slumped against the car's horn, he finds the gang members were already inside. They attack and subdue Nick, then drag Helen and Luke downstairs to shoot them all.

Nick awakes in the hospital to find that Luke survived (it's heavily implied that Helen was killed, but this is never made explicit). After Detective Wallis gives a brief speech that wars are never settled, she lets Nick pay a short visit to his now-comatose son, where he apologizes for not being a better father. Nick escapes from the hospital to go after the remaining gang members, obtaining guns from a black market gun dealer (John Goodman). ("Bones Darley" isn't mentioned by name, but after Brendan's murder, he's shown as the gang's boss and also Billy's father.) Nick tracks down Heco, another member of the gang, and interrogates him about where the other members are, and learns their lair is an abandoned mental hospital they call "The Office." He forces Heco at gunpoint to call Billy's cell phone, and executes Heco while Billy is listening. Bones confronts Billy and criticizes him, and Billy kills Bones. Nick heads to "The Office" to kill the remainder of the gang. After an intense shootout, he and Billy encounter and seriously wound each other in the hospital chapel. Sitting on the same pew, Billy claims that he turned Nick into a vicious cold-blooded killer, just like him. After this, Nick pulls out one of his guns and asks if Billy is "ready," implying that Nick kills Billy after the scene ends.

With his family now avenged, Nick returns home and starts to watch home movies. Detective Wallis arrives and tells him that his son has started moving and will live. Nick shows a sign of relief and looks back to the TV, which is showing Luke, Helen, Nick and Brendan singing on the couch. Nick is seriously wounded at this point, and though it's unclear if he survives, the unrated cut actually shows him dying.[3]


Box office[edit]

Death Sentence opened in 1,822 theaters in the United States and grossed $4,231,321, with an average of $2,322 per theater and ranking #8 at the box office. The film ultimately earned $9,534,258 domestically and $7,440,201 internationally for a total of $16,974,459.[2]


Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 20% of 111 surveyed critics gave the film a positive review; the average rating was 4.1 out of 10. The critical consensus states: "A nonsensical plot and an absurd amount of violence make this revenge pic gratuitous and overwrought."[4] The film has a score of 36 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 24 critics, indicating "Generally unfavorable reviews".[5]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 2½ stars out of 4. He compared Death Sentence to the Death Wish films starring Charles Bronson, saying: "In the Bronson movies, the hero just looked more and more determined until you felt if you tapped his face, it would explode. In Death Sentence, Bacon acts out a lot more." Ebert called Death Sentence "very efficient", praising "a courtroom scene of true surprise and suspense, and some other effective moments", but concluded that "basically this is a movie about a lot of people shooting at each other".[6]

Scott Tobias of The A.V. Club contends the film is "certainly never boring"; he felt that director James Wan was "too busy jamming the accelerator to realize that his movie's spinning out of control."[7] Matt Zoller Seitz of The New York Times said, "Aside from a stunning three-minute tracking shot as the gang pursues Nick through a parking garage, and Mr. Bacon's hauntingly pale, dark-eyed visage, Mr. Wan's film is a tedious, pandering time-waster."[8] Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly felt that "[t]he morality of revenge is barely at issue in a movie that pushes the plausibility of revenge right over a cliff."[9] Conversely, Justin Chang of Variety called the film "well-made, often intensely gripping".[10] Similarly, Bill Gibron of PopMatters felt the film was "a significant movie" and "a wonderfully tight little thriller".[11] Darren Amner of Eye for Film also gave the film a positive review, praising Bacon's performance in particular: "[H]is portrayal is emotional, sympathetic and highly aggressive. As a father he is touching and as a stone-cold killing machine he is even more convincing."[12]

Author Brian Garfield, who wrote the novel the film is loosely based on, said of the film: "While I could have done with a bit less blood-and-thunder, I think it's a stunningly good movie. In the details of its story it's quite different from the novel, but it's a movie, not a novel. In its cinematic way it connects with its audience and it makes the same point the book makes, and those are the things that count." He also liked that, like his novels, but unlike the Death Wish film series, it does not advocate vigilantism.[13] Garfield further explained in an interview: "I think that, except for its ludicrous violence toward the end, the Death Sentence movie does depict its character's decline and the stupidity of vengeful vigilantism," adding, "As a story it made the point I wanted it to make."[14]


  1. ^ "Death Sentence". The Numbers. Retrieved 2014-01-14. 
  2. ^ a b "Death Sentence". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2014-01-14. 
  3. ^ "Death Sentence – Movie Censorship". Movie Censorship. Retrieved 2012-02-21. 
  4. ^ "Death Sentence – Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2012-09-15. 
  5. ^ "Death Sentence (2007): Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 2007-09-14. 
  6. ^ Roger Ebert (2007-08-31). "Reviews – Death Sentence". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2007-09-14. 
  7. ^ Death Sentence – Film Scott Tobias, The A.V. Club, August 30, 2007
  8. ^ Movie Review – Death Sentence Matt Zoller Seitz, The New York Times, August 30, 2007
  9. ^ Death Sentence – Movie Review Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly, September 5, 2007
  10. ^ Death Sentence Review Justin Chang, Variety, August 30, 2007
  11. ^ Short Cuts – In Theaters: Death Sentence (2007) – Short Ends and Leader Bill Gibron, PopMatters, 2007
  12. ^ Death Sentence Movie Review (2007) Darren Amner, Eye for Film, 2007
  13. ^ Retrieved 2007-09-14
  14. ^ Historian: Interview with Brian Garfield Nikki Tranter, PopMatters, March 5, 2008

External links[edit]