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I'm astonished how a filmmaker notorious for his political left-wing fervor could make such a subtle, non-sanctimonious picture. If you're for capital punishment, you'll still be for it after seeing this. If you're against capital punishment, you'll still be against it. But whatever your stance is, this movie will, at the very least, make you reflect on why you feel the way you do. There's not one false note in the film.
Tim Robbins's 'Dead Man Walking' is a brave piece of cinema. Though the
film is about a man on death row and a nun's struggle to help him, I
liked how he presented both sides of the central theme of capital
punishment. This isn't a preachy film about capital punishment being
wrong or right as I doubt one's opinion would change on that after
watching the movie. But, it's more of a subtle movie that tells the
story of two people who form an unlikely friendship.
This couldn't have been an easy film to make yet he manages to pull it off. Poncelet is a ruthless murderer and in no way does Robbins condone what he has done but he and actor Sean Penn manage to win Poncelet the viewer's sympathy. The execution is terrific. The last scene particularly stands out. We see, in flashback, what had happened while Poncelet meets his ultimate fate. We see how he and Helen make the final connection, we see remorse in his eyes, we see him dying a slow death and at the same time the horror of the crime is exposed to us. We know that what he did is unforgivable but he finally took responsibility for that which allows us to see him as a human being rather than a ruthless killer. This also makes the whole tragedy more astonishing because you just ponder, like Sister Helen, on how such a normal human being commit such a heinous deed?
Both Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon deliver powerful performances. We pretty much see most of the film from Helen's point of view. Sarandon clearly has put a lot of heart into the role as she skillfully downplays her part showing tremendous depth and pathos. Sean Penn plays his difficult complex character with ease. The supporting cast do well (watch out for a young Jack Black and Peter Sarsgaard).
The score is mesmerizing, especially the Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan tracks. I also felt that sense of isolation that was brought out in the prison scenes. The terrific writing grips the viewer's attention right from the start. Even though we can predict Poncelet's fate, we are drawn into the fascinating transforming journey of these two intriguing characters.
Tim Robbins did a masterful job directing this film. I say this because he avoided convention and cliché. He also oversaw superb performances from Susan Sarandon (who won an Oscar for her role) and Sean Penn. Even more amazing, Robbins doesn't patronize. He just tells the story and lets the events play on the viewer's mind. This is so effective because it allows the viewer to form his own opinions on the death penalty, one of the most controversial subjects of our time, without being unfairly manipulated in either direction. I can't recommend this film enough, 9/10.
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
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
'It's easy to kill a monster, but it's hard to kill a human being.'
Set in St. Thomas Housing Project and Angola Prison in New Orleans, "Dead Man Walking" is the true story of Helen Prejean (Susan Sarandon), a Louisiana nun Sister who befriended Matthew Poncelet (Sean Penn), a murderer and a rapist bound for a lethal injection machine for killing a teenage couple Sister Helen agrees to help the convict and to remain with him till the endan act never before attempted by a woman
At their first meeting, Poncelet swears to the nun that his accomplice was the one who shot both of the kids and pleads her help for a new trial in order to convince the pardon board hearing to spare his life
The film challenges the audience to actually give some thought to the human consequences of the death penalty, but gives voice to angry bereaved parents whose kids were shot, stabbed, raped, and left in the woods to die alone
As Poncelet's execution looms closer and closer, his character is seen deceptively complex, harboring doubts about the rightness of what they were doing to him In one moment, we hear him sensitive asking for a lie detector test to let his mother know that he is innocent, in another we see him furious playing the victim, blaming the government, drugs, blacks, the kids for being there Poncelet never understood that he has robbed the Percys and the Delacroixs so much, giving them nothing but sorrow They are never going to see their children again, never going to hold them, to love them, to laugh with them
In the scenes leading up to his execution, the death-row inmate drops his terrible facade and reveals his identity Luckily both Sarandon and Penn are here exceptionalcarrying out successfully an exquisite, tangible harmony of souls When Sarandon was looking at Penn, she was projecting compassionate eyes brimming with tears She asks him to visualize her as he dies ''I want the last thing you see in this world to be the face of love''in that moment, we truly believed that she'll be the face of love for him
"Dead Man Walking" is a piece of incredible filmmaking. All the acting is top-notch and realistic, and the script examines the issue of the death penalty from both sides, paying equal homage to both. Above all, this is a deeply moving story of redemption, of death with dignity and loss of ego. Any film that deals this courageously and maturely with such incredibly difficult subject matter deserves a rating of 10/10. Thank you, Tim Robbins!
In a world in which debatable and misunderstood subjects can be listed
endlessly, this powerful 1995 film takes on one at the top of that list;
moreover, it does it objectively and realistically, and with a sensibility
and sensitivity that makes it a truly great film by anyone's measuring
stick. And to add some irony to it all, even the subject matter of this
film has been widely misunderstood, as it is wrongly perceived that this is
a film about the pros and cons of the death penalty; it is not. At the
heart of `Dead Man Walking,' directed by Tim Robbins, is a subject that in
reality is possibly the most misunderstood of all, and with good reason,
because it just may be the hardest thing there is for a human being to
really-- and truly-- understand. And it is what this film is actually all
about: Forgiveness. Real forgiveness; not excusing a heinous crime or the
perpetrator thereof-- not saying that what's happened is okay-- but finding
the strength to go on, and to do so by choosing life.
Director/screenwriter Tim Robbins has crafted and delivered a faithful adaptation of the novel by Sister Helen Prejean, in which she discusses her involvement with the death-row inmates to whom over the years she has ministered her faith in God. As chronicled in the film, what for her was to become a lifelong pursuit of not only justice, but human dignity, began with a simple letter from a death-row inmate at the Louisiana State Prison at Angola. Sentenced to death for rape and murder, Matthew Poncelet (Sean Penn) was reaching out to anyone who would listen, when his letter ended up in the hands of Sister Prejean (Susan Sarandon), who soon found herself venturing into a territory of which she had absolutely no knowledge or experience. And Robbins has successfully captured Sister Prejean's emotional and turbulent journey succinctly, while managing to keep it devoid of any maudlin sentimentality, which makes it not only real, credible and believable, but makes it a poignant and thoroughly emotionally involving experience for the audience. Through the medium of the cinema, what was once a personal, significant emotional experience for Sister Prejean, becomes one for everyone who sees this film, as well.
For her soul-stirring, impassioned portrayal of Sister Prejean, Susan Sarandon deservedly won the Oscar for Best Actress. Sensitive and fraught with emotional depth, her performance is incredibly touching and real, especially in the way in which she conveys Sister Prejean's underlying natural fragility and vulnerability, which she adamantly tempered with the toughness she needed to carry on with her endeavors on behalf of Poncelet (and in reality, a total of five since she began). Whatever your point of view regarding the matters examined in this film, Sister Prejean is without question an individual of heroic proportions, which Sarandon exquisitely personifies here; and she does it without resorting to any superfluous melodramatics, but rather by keeping it real, by subtly and humbly exploring the humanity of the person in a very believable expression of characterization. It's an extraordinary performance, arguably the best of Sarandon's brilliant career.
Turning in a career-best performance, as well, is Sean Penn, who was nominated for Best Actor for his portrayal of Poncelet (he lost out to Nicolas Cage, who won for his performance in `Leaving Las Vegas). Perfect for the part in every way, Penn has quite simply never been better, before or since. He effectively presents Poncelet as a real person, rather than as an overblown caricature of a monster capable of perpetrating the crimes depicted here. Not that it makes Poncelet any less despicable; just the opposite, in fact. It makes it genuinely disconcerting to be faced with the fact that someone who looks like a guy who could live next door to you could be capable of such things. And that's the strength of Penn's performance-- it's so disturbingly real, presented with depth and nuance; you have but to look into his eyes to find the imperfections of a troubled soul. A terrific performance, and -- as good as Cage was in `Vegas'-- Penn should have received the Oscar for it.
In another stand-out performance, Raymond J. Barry is memorable in a supporting role as Earl Delacroix, father of one of Poncelet's victims. With limited screen time, he nevertheless develops his character in such a way that enables you to empathize with him, as well as with Sister Prejean, as it is through him that we are given some insight into just how complex and seemingly tenuous her position is, at least on the surface. Barry presents Delacroix in such a way that gives the necessary balance and perspective to the story, which is ultimately extremely effective and helps to underscore the message of the film.
The supporting cast includes R. Lee Emery (Clyde Percy), Celia Weston (Mary Beth Percy), Lois Smith (Helen's Mother), Scott Wilson (Chaplin Farley), Roberta Maxwell (Lucille Poncelet), Margo Martindale (Sister Colleen) and Jack Black (Craig Poncelet). It is doubtful that this film will change anyone's mind one way or another about the death penalty, but that was never the intention; what was intended, was to make a thought-provoking, emotionally involving film, which is exactly what Robbins has accomplished with `Dead Man Walking.' Regardless of your personal point of view, this film will have an impact, and hopefully will open some minds to the true nature of forgiveness. For, as we see through the character of Earl Delacroix, true forgiveness is not something one merely decides to do, but is a task that can become a lifetime's work. And it's possibly one of the hardest things in life to effectively accomplish; and you come away from this film with an appreciation for individuals like Sister Prejean, who has selflessly dedicated her life to helping those in need, and to filmmakers like Robbins and Sarandon for bringing her to life for millions of people who otherwise would never have known her. I rate this one 10/10.
"Dead Man Walking" deals with one nun's struggle (Susan Sarandon in her Oscar-winning part) to help a convicted death row inmate (Sean Penn in an Oscar-nominated role) come to terms with his imminent execution. Writer-director Tim Robbins does something very difficult in this film, he makes us care about the unsympathetic character that Penn plays. Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn dominate the film in every aspect imaginable, they play a complicated chess match at times and eventually become close friends by the end of the picture. The fact that Sarandon and Robbins are openly against the death penalty in real life just adds to this film. Their strong opinion on the subject leads to an unforgettable motion picture that is made well and performed well by the two leads. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
How do you know if a movie is good or not? It is the impact it has on you
that makes the difference. "Dead Man Walking" upset me a great deal. I
watched it twice. I don't know if I will be strong enough to watch it again.
No, I did not feel good at all after watching it, but the film was as
successful as it can be.
Robbins did a great job in incorporating all aspects of this controversial topic. He avoided making an argument that could easily be seen as biased or subjective. I hope that many people get to see "Dead Man Walking". I believe that anyone who supports or opposes the death penalty so enthusiastically should see the movie.
I don't know what else it could take to finally convince everyone that this relic from ancient times does not have a place in modern society anymore.
The movie itself does not make an argument for or against death penalty. It describes reality. The reality is the best argument against the death penalty.
A 10/10 for great performances, good filmmaking, and for the most important film made in years
Thank you, Tim Robbins!
"Dead Man Walking" is one of the most powerful movies I have ever seen. I
find it hard to believe that anyone, after having seen the movie, could feel
indifferent about the film or its message. Tim Robbins does not try to
impose his ideas and beliefs on the viewers, but manages to make a film that
are in most ways sympathetic to both views on the death penalty -- whether
it is right to murder a murderer or not. I have always known where I stand
in this question, even as a child, and this movie -- despite the fact that
it does not really take any sides -- made me even surer in my conviction
that it can never be right to murder *anyone*.
Sean Penn is absolutely brilliant in his portrayal of Matthew Poncelet, his nomination for an Academy Award was very well-deserved. Even if Nicolas Cage does a great job in "Leaving Las Vegas", I would have been happier if Penn had won the award. Susan Sarandon is also brilliant and she deserved the Academy Award she won. And Tim Robbins certainly deserves the vote I have given this film: 9/10!
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