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, his wife Helen and their two sons, Brendan and Lucas, watch Brendan's hockey game. While Nick and Brendan are driving home, they talk about the latter's potential future as a professional hockey player. They stop at a gas station in a bad part of town and during a 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, but Joe escapes to get hit by a car. Nick rushes Brendan to the hospital, but Brendan dies.
Nick identifies Joe in a line-up, but while meeting with the district attorney, he becomes angry when the DA presents a case that the defense will cut a deal for three to five years of jail time. 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 Joe will go free. He follows the gang to their hideout, returning later and stabbing Joe while he is alone. The gang leader, Billy, wants revenge. One of the gang members says his sister saw a man in a suit. Confirming it was Nick from a newspaper picture, they ambush him on the street. After chasing him, they stop at the top of a multi-story parking garage, where Nick gets into a fight with one of the members and traps him in a car and sends him over the edge of the lot.
One of the gang members arrives at the office where Nick works to deliver his suitcase that 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, and reveals that Joe Darley was his brother. Nick immediately calls the police detective assigned to Brendan's case, Jessica Wallis, who is already aware of what Nick started, 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 and Helen dies.
After Detective Wallis 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 Bones, who is also 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 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, but Billy kills him. Nick heads to "The Office" to kill the remainder of the 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 one of his guns and kills Billy.
With his family now avenged, Nick returns home, watches his own family's movies and awaits his inevitable arrest. Detective Wallis comes to arrest Nick, but informs him that Lucas has moved and will now live. Nick becomes relieved and looks at the television, which shows the family singing on the couch. Nick's final fate remains unknown. In the extended version of the film, Nick succumbs to his injuries.Kevin Bacon as Nick Hume
Garrett Hedlund as Billy Darley
Kelly Preston as Helen Hume
Aisha Tyler as Detective Jessica Wallis
John Goodman as Bones Darley
Matt O'Leary as Joe Darley
Leigh Whannell as Spink
Stuart Lafferty as Brendan Hume
Zachary Dylan Smith as Young Brendan Hume
Jordan Garrett as Lucas Hume
Edi Gathegi as Bodie
Yorgo Constantine as Michael Behring
Hector Atreyu Ruiz as Heco
Kanin Howell as Baggy
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.
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." The film has a score of 36 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 24 critics, indicating "Generally unfavorable reviews".
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".
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 "[t]he 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 PopMatters 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 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. 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."