In the early 1970s, a pulp
writer named Brian Garfield came up with a clever urban jungle nightmare,
writing Death Wish, a novel about a business executive whose family
was destroyed by a random act of criminal violence. When the crooks
get off scott-free, the guy takes up walking around Central Park at night,
offering himself up as a victim, and killing the criminals who take the
This was in the midst of
the wild years of Manhattan crime and became a favorite city-dweller
fantasy. (At least, until Bernard Goetz showed the flip side of
vigilantism several years later.) The novel was turned into a smash
hit film starring Charles Bronson – who himself made the jump from
well-known actor to action superstar with the role.
The movie of Death Wish
spawned (at least) four sequels – none of which was nearly as good as
the extremely effective original film. However, very few people now
remember that the book had a follow-up, too. Not an official sequel,
but an extremely parallel story released by Garfield in 1975 (the year after
the movie first Death Wish movie) called Death Sentence,
also about a boring office exec whose family is shattered by an act of
criminal violence and then takes the law in his own hands when he gets no
justice from the legal system.
The movie of Death
Sentence is finally coming out thirty-some years later. This may
seem way too late to take advantage of the book's slight name recognition
and the no-longer-quite-so-topical storyline – until you consider that this
film is beating out of the gates The Brave One, a similar-sounding
but higher-profile vigilante drama with Jodie Foster.
Well, Death Sentence
is not nearly as good a film as Death Wish, either. (We'll have
to wait until next month to see how The Brave One compares.)
certainly has its moments and can be extremely suspenseful in parts, however
there are just too many absurd plot inconsistencies to recommend it
Kevin Bacon – who is never
less than interesting as an actor, but unfortunately here not much more
either – plays Nick Hume, a well-off suburban man who is driving his son
home from a hockey game when he gets lost in a bad neighborhood. When
he stops for gas, his son is killed in the station during a gang-initiation
When Hume senses that the
prosecution is going badly and the most the killer will get is 3-5 years
behind bars, Hume double-crosses the prosecution and lets the killer go
free, just so that he can maybe screw on his courage to kill the guy and his
This doesn't seem to make
much sense – even if he was angry that his son's killer was not getting
enough time wouldn't he rather him get some time? Why would a
middle-aged man with no history of violence expect that he could take out an
entire group of gang-bangers?
Yes, I know that was the
story of Death Wish, too, but it seemed to make more sense there –
and at least Bronson's character was smart enough to get himself a gun right
away, not just before the climax, when Hume finally gets around to it.
The main difference from
the earlier story is that the gang knows who Hume is as well, and comes
gunning for him and the rest of his family. This leads to some
extended action sequences – some of which are very effective (particularly
a long foot chase which climaxes in a garage). However, most of them
are reached merely because Hume, the head gang-banger (Grant Hedlund) and a
sympathetic policewoman investigating the case (Aisha Tyler) all always seem
to make the absolute wrong moves or decisions.
If you are willing to
overlook these gaping plot inconsistencies, Death Sentence is a taut
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2007 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
Posted: December 21, 2007.