A convicted murderer on Death Row and the nun who befriends him. Through the portrayal of finely drawn characters and their interactions as the days, hours, and minutes tick down to the condemned man's execution, powerful emotions are unleashed. While Matthew Poncelet and Sister Prejean desperately try to gain a stay of execution from the governor or the courts, scenes are intercut from the brutal crime, gradually revealing the truth about the events that transpired. In addition to her temporal help, the nun also tries to reach out spiritually and assist as a guide to salvation. Written by
Tad Dibbern <DIBBERN_D@a1.mscf.upenn.edu>
This Film Was Edited On Old Fashioned Machines. This credit was inspired by John Ottman, editor of 'The Usual Suspects'. Ottman had wanted to put "edited on a piece of s*** Steenbeck" at the end of his movie, but settled for the more subtle "Edited on film". Tim Robbins heard about this, and decided to put his own variation of the line on the credits of 'Dead Man Walking.' See more »
Coming from the Hollywood couple notorious for their strong political convictions and social consciousness, "Dead Man Walking" is a multi-layered and thorough examination of a controversial issue. With this film, Tim Robbins really proves himself as a writer and a director, leaving no stones unturned in addressing the many key elements of capital punishment. In what I consider the best film of 1995, Robbins' take on the death penalty is both compassionate and incisive. Though he, Susan Sarandon, and Sister Helen Prejean (the Catholic nun who wrote the book upon which the movie is based) are against the death penalty, "Dead Man Walking" goes to great lengths to encourage debate and to examine the issue from all angles. It provides us with just as many arguments for capital punishment as it provides against capital punishment.
"Dead Man Walking" is perhaps most successful in depicting the families of both the murderer and his two victims. The scene in which Sister Helen visits Mr. Delacroix (father of the male victim) after he has criticized her for not doing so in the first place is particularly moving. As the scene ends, the camera slowly moves back, revealing a quiet and still living room. This shot alone perfectly suggests the shattering toll a murder takes on a family. In fact, this film has plenty of subjective camerawork that is both subtle and potent at the same time. Never does Robbins' feel that he has to hammer in the pain that these families face.
Sean Penn gives the performance of his career as Matthew Poncelet, the trailer-trashy and racist death-row inmate. This is the role that should have won him the Oscar, had there been any justice. A great testament to Penn's acting is that he does not try to win sympathy for his character. He simply plays Poncelet as is, and presents him as human, in the process. I have seen this film many times over the years and my heart still skips a beat when Poncelet finally lets go of his ego and owns up to his responsibility in the murders.
Susan Sarandon is simply wonderful as Sister Helen Prejean, playing her with a combination of bravery and vulnerablility. It is also great to see a Catholic nun depicted in a non-stereotypical way. Just as Penn gives a human face to a hardened criminal, Sarandon makes Sister Helen equally human.
I also strongly recommend the book! I have read it twice myself and I am sure that I will be affected by it once more the next time I pick it up. By reading the book, you will notice that Robbins has taken a few liberties with the actual events. The character Matthew Poncelet is actually an amalgamation of two death row inmates that Sister Helen describes in her book. The spirit and compassion of the book is dead-on accurate. It amazes me that Robbins' screenplay adaptation was not even nominated for an Oscar in addition to the other four nominations this movie did receive. As far as I am concerned, Robbins' direction and writing are assured, and I continue to look forward to his next projects.
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