A justice drama based on a true story about a man on death row who in his last days forms a strong relationship with a nun who teaches him forgiveness and gives him spirituality as she accompanies him to his execution. Susan Sarandon won an Oscar for best female actress for her convincing portrayal of Sister Helen Prejean.
|Release Date||:||December 29, 1995|
|Production Company||:||Havoc, PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, Working Title Films|
|Production Countries||:||United States of America, United Kingdom|
|Director||:||Tim Robbins, Allan F. Nicholls, Sam Hoffman|
|Writers||:||Helen Prejean, Tim Robbins|
|Casts||:||Susan Sarandon, Sean Penn, Robert Prosky, Raymond J. Barry, R. Lee Ermey, Celia Weston, Lois Smith, Scott Wilson, Roberta Maxwell, Margo Martindale, Jack Black, Ray Aranha, Peter Sarsgaard, Barton Heyman, Steve Boles, Nesbitt Blaisdell, Larry Pine, Kevin Cooney, Clancy Brown, Michael Cullen, Missy Yager, Jenny Krochmal, Jon Abrahams, Arthur Bridgers, Steve Carlisle, Eva Amurri Martino, Jack Henry Robbins, Dennis Neal, Molly Bryant, Adele Robbins, Pete Burris, Joan Glover, Lenore Banks, Scott Sowers, Cortez Nance Jr., Adam Nelson, Jeremy Knaster, Marcus Lyle Brown, Anthony Michael Frederick, Thomas McGowan, Codie Scott, Helen Prejean|
|Plot Keywords||:||prison, rape, socially deprived family, penalty, death penalty, despair, death row, begnadigung, therapist, self-discovery, prison cell, court case, death sentence, doomed man, sentence, lethal injection, forgiveness, charity, mercy petition, rage and hate, unsociability, right and justice, court, electric chair, cowardliness|
I haven't seen many films that really, truly made me rethink a long-held position or opinion on a thorny issue, but "Dead Man Walking" is one of them.
I read Sr. Helen Prejean's book, upon which this film was based, when it first came out in 1993. At that time I was utterly supportive of capital punishment -- to quote the script, I felt anyone who committed crimes horrible enough to land them on Death Row was an "expendable human being, suckin' up tax dollars." I also had personal experience with the issue when an entire family whom I knew in my childhood were slaughtered by a man who is now on Death Row for his crimes.
As you might imagine, I was disgusted with Sr. Helen's book. I thought that trotting to death row and holding the hand of some scumbag who'd killed innocent people was about the lowest thing anyone could do, and as a Catholic I was offended by the seeming hypocrisy of it.
Because I had disliked the book, I never saw the film until about two weeks ago, when I bought a remaindered copy of it in a video store. I have watched it four times since then, mostly because I am trying to work out my feelings on it. I am still a supporter of capital punishment, but it's going to be less easy for me to ignore the fact that (to quote again), "There's nobody with money on Death Row" -- and quite a few more blacks, now that I think of it, AND the fact that, like Matthew Poncelet's character, the men who are being executed are human beings who have feelings and fears. It's easy to jeer at Matthew on the day before his execution, fretting nervously about whether the lethal injection will "hurt," like a little boy at the doctor's office for a penicillin shot, since his victims' last moments certainly "hurt." What isn't easy is to realize that while the victims of these inmates didn't know they were about to die until it was too late, the inmates themselves have what seems like a blessing at first, but upon deeper examination is the greatest curse: knowing the exact hour and day they will die, and having to face it day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute.
I'm sorry if this review offends people who are sincere death penalty supporters. I still consider myself to be one, but my thinking has been reformed somewhat and I'm more ready to listen to the opponents and try to make compromises; maybe that's what this issue needs more than anything. I will say finally that ONE part of this film did offend me as a Catholic: the symbolic "crucifixion" of Poncelet during the "last words" scene. That was the one place where Robbins strayed from his even-handed approach to the issue -- the only one I could find.
In all, this was a fine film that made me rethink an explosive issue, and I recommend it highly to anyone debating the pros and cons.