Home > Reviews > DEATH SENTENCE – Charlie Clouser

DEATH SENTENCE – Charlie Clouser

Original Review by Clark Douglas

There are few things I enjoy more than discovering that a movie I expected to be dumb and poorly made is actually smart and well-crafted. In addition, there are few things that disappoint me as much as discovering that a movie that seems smart and fresh is actually dumb and routine. Watching “Death Sentence”, I unusually experienced both the former and the latter.

The film begins by introducing us to a very happy family of four. The father is played by Kevin Bacon, the mother is played by Kelly Preston, both sporting cheerful grins. Their two teenage boys are generally upstanding, well-behaved kids, and things are just hunky-dory. As you might expect from a movie with such a cheerful opening, tragedy soon occurs. The oldest son is killed by a young gang member. After the legal system fails to bring this young man to justice, Bacon hunts the kid down and kills him in a rage of anger.

Thinking he has brought balance to the world, Bacon attempts to restart life with his family. His peace is short-lived. The gang now wants revenge for their dead member, and they threaten to come after Bacon’s family. Action and violence ensue, but the film takes on a surprisingly contemplative tone during these scenes. Thoughtful questions are raised about whether one can truly bring about any sort of justice in the world, and whether it is ever possible for violence to fail to bring about more violence. I particularly liked the character of the police detective played by Aisha Tyler (who can also be seen in “Balls of Fury”, in a much sillier role). She has a certain wisdom that can only come from seeing the effects of violence time after time. There are genuinely surprising moments when she does not provide the routine reactions we expect from movie cops, who are generally the most mundane characters in films like this.

The film continues to be thoughtful and surprising for most of it’s duration, and is carried very well by Kevin Bacon. His transformation from cheerful, loving father to brutal vigilante is a convincing one, and is yet another in a string of superb performances from Bacon. Kelly Preston is good as his wife, and John Goodman has an excellent scene as a sleazy gun dealer. Also solid is Garrett Hedlund, who will be unrecognizable who those who saw him playing the quiet little brother in “Four Brothers”. Here, he creates a merciless, immature monster that is as difficult to love as he is to hate. Despite the sheer depths of evil he reaches, there’s something broken about him that inspires us to pity him.

While the film’s first 85 minutes are excellent, the film sadly falls into formulaic hypocrisy in the final act, discarding all of it’s thoughtfulness in favor of a tired, lazily staged shootout between Bacon and numerous gang members. I was disappointed that the film lost it’s mental footing, and surprised that it was so sloppily presented… consider the breathless intensity of the chase scene midway through the film, and you will not be able to believe the ending was filmed by the same director.

Like the movie itself, the film’s score is both surprising and disappointing. On the positive side, the soundtrack does not often rely on loud heavy metal selections to pump up the energy level, and Charlie Clouser’s score generally seems to avoid becoming dark, dull sound design. There’s a main theme heard throughout the score, a very sad piece that generally spotlights cooing female vocals. The music is certainly a step up from Clouser’s music for the “Saw” films and “Dead Silence” (essentially his only other major assignments thus far). On the negative side, there were several moments where the score seemed to cheapen various scenes, adding to much of a B-thriller element to scenes that were attempting to transcend B-thriller levels of quality. There were several musical moments that could have used a little more introspection and a little less gung-ho masochism… but that’s just my take.

That director is James Wan, who is famous for directing the first “Saw” film. I liked that creative film, and I was greatly disappointed to see the sequels (made by other directors) run the franchise into mindless violence and sadism. Here, Wan manages to handle the journey from excellence to mindlessness over the course of one film, setting the stage for any old hack to pick up where this one left off. Most of the film is a step up from “Saw”, the rest of the film is a notable step down. Based on the evidence of this movie, Wan has the potential to make some really fantastic movies. This one comes close, but falls flat on it’s face at the finish line. Let’s hope he makes it all the way next time.

Rating: **½

Track Listing:

  • Open Office
  • Open Office (Alternate)
  • Home Front
  • Home Front (Alternate)
  • Stickup
  • Brendan (Mix 1)
  • Brendan (Mix 2)
  • Brendan (Alternate 1)
  • Brendan (Alternate 2)
  • My Son (Mix 1)
  • My Son (Mix 2)
  • Lineup
  • Funeral (Mix 1)
  • Funeral (Mix 2)
  • Evidence
  • Dismissed (Mix 1)
  • Dismissed (Mix 2)
  • Drive Off (Mix 1)
  • Drive Off (Mix 2)
  • Stabbed
  • Message (Mix 1)
  • Message (Mix 2)
  • Bandage
  • Aspirin
  • Alleyway
  • Alleyway (Alternate)
  • Boxes
  • Kitchen
  • Car Fight
  • Look Down
  • Goddamn Car
  • Delivery
  • Run Home
  • Always Will
  • Invasion
  • Survived
  • The World
  • Going Home (Mix 1)
  • Going Home (Mix 2)
  • After Billy
  • Kill Mode
  • Strapped (Mix 1)
  • Strapped (Mix 2)
  • Van Crash (Mix 1)
  • Van Crash (Mix 2)
  • Stairway (Mix 1)
  • Stairway (Mix 2)
  • Stalking
  • Shootout

Running Time: 63 minutes 19 seconds

Promo (2007)

Music composed and arranged by Charlie Clouser. Edited by Mark Bensi. Score produced by Charlie Clouser.

  1. Marco Ludema
    December 18, 2018 at 9:43 am

    Does anyone know if I can buy this one on CD somewhere?

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