Nick Hume is husband to Helen, and father of two boys, Brendan and Lucas. After Brendan's hockey game, Nick and Brendan, the star of his team, drive home talking of the oldest son's future. They make a quick stop at a gas station to refuel. During what appears to be a robbery of the gas station, Joe Darley, younger brother to member of the Darley Gang, Billy Darley, slices Brendan's throat open with a machete in an act of initiation into the gang. 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 soon discovers that, if the case goes to court at all, Joe would only be sentenced to 3 to 5 years in jail for his crime, so he forces the police to drop the case. Joe, now a free man, becomes the target of Nick's revenge; he is eventually killed when Nick stabs him with a rusty knife in Joe's home. His brother Billy wants revenge for the death of his little brother. After discounting members of other gangs as culprits they learn a gang member's sister happened to see a man in a suit the night Joe died. Quickly realizing it must be Nick, they ambush him the next day, atop a multi-story car park. Nick escapes, but takes a member of the gang named Tommy's life in the process. Billy warns Nick that they will be coming for his family and that he has bought them a death sentence. The police detective who's been following Nick's case, Detective Jessica Wallis, is aware of what is happening: She grants Nick's family police protection and has a callout to the Darley Gang. The officers watching over the family are killed in an ensuing raid by the gang and they make their way inside, where they attack and shoot at Nick, his wife Helen, and his remaining son Lucas. Nick and Lucas survive, but Helen does not. After Detective Wallis gives a brief speech on how wars are never settled, she lets Nick pay a short visit to his now-comatose son in the hospital, where he apologizes for not being a better father. Nick leaves the hospital to go after the remaining gang members obtaining guns from the leader of the Darley Gang, Bones Darley. Although Bones is aware that Nick is after his son, he still gives him the weapons and lets him go. Nick heads to Billy's lair, called "The Office" to kill the remainder of the gang. He soon confronts and shoots Billy in a quick duel which leaves both men seriously wounded. Dying of his wounds, Billy admits to Nick that he did, in fact, turn Nick into a vicious cold-blooded killer just like him. After this, Nick pulls out one of his guns and asks if Billy's "ready," and kills him. With his family now avenged, Nick returns home and starts to watch the videos of his family. 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 shows Lucas, Helen, Nick and Brendan while sitting on the couch.
- Kevin Bacon as Nick Hume
- Garret Hedlund as Billy Darley
- Kelly Preston as Helen Hume, Nick's wife and Brendan's and Lucas's mother
- Yorgo Constantine as Michael Behring
- John Goodman as Bones Darley, leader of the Darley Gang and Billy's and Joe's dysfunctional father
- Aisha Taylor as Detective Jessica Wallis, a detective investigating Nick's vigilantism
- Matt O'Leary as Joe Darley, Billy's little brother
- Leigh Whannell as Spink
- Stuart Lafferty as Brendan Hume, Nick's first son
- Jordan Garrett as Lucas Hume, Nick's second son
- Zachary Dylan Smith as Young Brendan Hume
- Edi Gathegi as Bodie
- Hector Atreyu Ruiz as Heco
- Kanin Howell as Baggy
- Freddy Bouciegues as Tommy
On the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, 19% of critics gave the film positive reviews based on 106 reviews, as of February 27, 2009. On Metacritic, the film had an average score of 36 out of 100, based on 24 reviews. Rodger Ebert of the 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".
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." 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." Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly felt that "the morality of revenge is barely at issue in a movie that pushes the plausibility of revenge right over a cliff." Conversely, Justin Chang of Variety called the film "well-made, often intensely gripping". Similarly, Bill Gibron of Pop Matters felt the film was "a significant movie" and "a wonderfully tight little thriller". 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."
Author Brian Garfeild, 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. 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."
Similarites to the NovelEdit
The film has little in common with the novel, a sequel to Death Wish. The novel follows Paul Benjamin moving to Chicago, Illinois after his daughter dies in a mental institution, as he continues his vigilantism. He then falls for a woman. The novel also deals with Benjamin's attempts to stop a new, antagonistic vigilante from copying his methods for publicity, as he later is confronted with an idealist as to why his vigilantism must stop. The film, while borrowing elements from the Death Wish and Death Sentence novels, follows a new character, Nick Hume, as his family suffers a gang-related attack similar to that experienced by Benjamin's in Death Wish.
The film takes place and was filmed in Columbia, South Carolina.
Billy the Puppet from the Saw series makes a brief cameo as a grafitti-styled painting on a wall. Leigh Whannell, who plays Spink in the film, is one of the creators of the Saw series in addition to director James Wan. Charlie Clouser, who provided the music for Death Sentence also composed the music for the Saw series and the TV show Las Vegas.
The Region 1 DVD includes two versions: theatrical, rated R by the US MPAA, and an unrated version. The DVD's Canadian ratings are 18A and 16 ans (for the Province of Quebec).