Death Sentence (2007 film)

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Death Sentence
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJames Wan
Produced by
Screenplay byIan Mackenzie Jeffers
Based onDeath Sentence
by Brian Garfield
Music byCharlie Clouser
CinematographyJohn R. Leonetti
Edited byMichael N. Knue
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • August 31, 2007 (2007-08-31)
Running time
111 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$20 million[1]
Box office$17 million[2]

Death Sentence is a 2007 American vigilante action drama film loosely based on the 1975 novel of the same name by Brian Garfield.

Directed by 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, a businessman living in Columbia, South Carolina, goes to watch his son Brendan's hockey game. As they are driving home, they stop at a gas station in a bad part of town. During an apparent robbery of the gas station, Joe Darley, a new gang member, slices Brendan's throat with a machete. Nick ambushes the thugs, pulls off Joe's mask and sees his face. Joe escapes, only to get hit by a car. Nick rushes Brendan to the hospital, but the boy dies.

Nick identifies Joe in a police line-up, but is outraged when the district attorney tells him that the defense will cut a deal for a light sentence, since there is not enough evidence to take the case to trial. At a pre-trial hearing, Nick recants his identification so Joe will go free. After following the gang to their hideout, Nick waits until Joe is alone and stabs him to death. The gang leader, Billy, wants revenge. One of the gang members says his sister saw a man in a suit on the night when Joe was killed. Confirming it was Nick from a newspaper picture, they ambush him on the street. He is chased to the top of a multi-story parking garage, where he is trapped in a car and sent over the edge of the lot.

Another of the gang members arrives at Nick's office to deliver a suitcase he dropped during the chase. Nick calls a phone number found in the case, which belongs to Billy. Billy warns that Nick has bought a "death sentence" for his family, revealing that Joe was his brother. Nick immediately calls Jessica Wallis, the detective assigned to Brendan's case, who is already aware of what Nick started. Jessica grants Nick's family police protection and issues APBs on Billy and his gang. That night, the officers at Nick's house are stealthily killed, but by the time Nick realizes, he finds the gang members are in the house. They attack and subdue Nick, then drag Helen and Lucas downstairs to shoot them; Helen dies.

After Jessica gives a speech that wars are never settled, she lets Nick pay a visit to a comatose Lucas, 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 named Bones, who, at the conclusion of their transaction reveals himself as Billy's father. Nick tracks down Heco, a member of the gang, and interrogates him about where the other members are, learning their lair is an abandoned mental hospital that they call "The Office". He forces Heco at gunpoint to call Billy's cell phone, and executes him while Billy is listening. Bones confronts Billy, who kills him.

Nick heads to "The Office" to wipe out the surviving gang. After a 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. Nick pulls out his revolver and asks Billy if he's ready to meet his maker, as Billy sheds a tear before Nick ends his life. With his family now avenged, Nick returns home, watches his own family's movies and awaits his inevitable arrest. When she arrives, Jessica informs him that Lucas has improved and will now live. Nick becomes relieved and sees his family happily singing on the couch.

Alternative ending[edit]

In the extended version of the film, Nick succumbs to his injuries.


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 113 surveyed critics gave the film a positive review; the average rating was 4.20/10. The critical consensus states: "A nonsensical plot and an absurd amount of violence make this revenge pic gratuitous and overwrought."[3] The film has a score of 36 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 24 critics, indicating "Generally unfavorable reviews".[4]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 2+12 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".[5]

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."[6] 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."[7] 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."[8] Conversely, Justin Chang of Variety called the film "well-made, often intensely gripping".[9] Similarly, Bill Gibron of PopMatters felt the film was "a significant movie" and "a wonderfully tight little thriller".[10] 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."[11]

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.[12] 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."[13]


  1. ^ "Death Sentence". The Numbers. Retrieved January 14, 2014.
  2. ^ a b "Death Sentence". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved January 14, 2014.
  3. ^ "Death Sentence – Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved March 9, 2021.
  4. ^ "Death Sentence (2007): Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved September 14, 2007.
  5. ^ Roger Ebert (August 31, 2007). "Reviews – Death Sentence". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved September 14, 2007.
  6. ^ Death Sentence – Film Scott Tobias, The A.V. Club, August 30, 2007
  7. ^ Movie Review – Death Sentence Matt Zoller Seitz, The New York Times, August 30, 2007
  8. ^ Death Sentence – Movie Review Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly, September 5, 2007
  9. ^ Death Sentence Review Justin Chang, Variety, August 30, 2007
  10. ^ Short Cuts – In Theaters: Death Sentence (2007) – Short Ends and Leader Bill Gibron, PopMatters, 2007
  11. ^ Death Sentence Movie Review (2007) Darren Amner, Eye for Film, 2007
  12. ^ Retrieved 2007-09-14
  13. ^ Historian: Interview with Brian Garfield Nikki Tranter, PopMatters, March 5, 2008

External links[edit]