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Richard Walters is condemned to death for a murder he claims not to have committed. He arrives on death row just before a brutal inmate leads the other convicts in a violent uprising. Walters gets caught up in the riot, while on the outside his friends are trying to find evidence of his innocence. Written by
Kindly, sympathetic, upstanding convicts who are on Death Row for no good reason that we ever learn (except that we know Dick Walters has been wrongfully convicted)are put to death by prison guards who vary from indifferent to mean, while the Warden agonizes over what good capital punishment does and the meaning of it all -- until an attempted prison break turns him into the most bloodthirsty of all.
The one-set stage play is opened up a little bit by scenes showing the crime for which Walters has been convicted and the discovery of the criminals who really committed the crime. Good performances are turned in by Preston Forster as Killer Mears, the one prisoner who shows a mean streak that may have landed him on Death Row; and by Daniel L. Haynes, who had starred in Hallelujah three years earlier, as the token black singing prisoner.
Anti-death penalties dramas haven't become more balanced or less simplistic; if anything, the thumb on the scale is even heavier in The Green Mile's recounting of the execution of angelic Michael Clarke Duncan. But today more realistic depictions of prison life and prisoners abound in cable television documentaries, and the misplaced sentimentality of The Last Mile toward its misunderstood convicts isn't easily swallowed. It does, however, have Killer Mears' bravado line at the end of the prison break: "I think I'll go get a little air."
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