Deadline (2004) Poster

(I) (2004)

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6 ReviewsOrdered By: Helpfulness
Volrath32728 September 2004
Riveting documentary that explores the flaws found in the Illinois criminal justice system and how the governor, George Ryan, was left to singlehandely decide the fate of over 150 Death Row inmates. The filmmakers superbly tell the tale of how local journalism students discovered multiple people sentenced to death in Illinois were innocent. As the stunningly emotional clemency hearings are held, the film takes a step further, exploring the whole ugly issue of the death penalty in the United States. The depth and complexity of the subject matter will be appreciated by those interested in sociology and law enforcement, but the film's real draw is its powerful human drama.

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Exceptional. Actually changed my opinion!
zetes29 October 2004
Very strong documentary about Illinois Governor George Ryan, who was faced with the decision of whether to commute all of the sentences of capital punishment in his state to sentences of life in prison. I'm a liberal Democrat who actually supported the death penalty, and Deadline is a rare film that challenged my views and made me rethink my opinion, and, in only 90 minutes, almost entirely changed my mind. Not that I haven't heard most of the arguments in the film before, but the film presented it in a way that made me consider the issue on a deeper level. It hasn't convinced me 100% that the death penalty should be abolished, but I do see how arbitrary the practice can be, and how poorly our system works at times. In that way, I am almost at the point where I think that the system perhaps should be abolished completely, because there is no way to perfect it. There will always be flaws. It's hardly a perfect film, and, at 90 minutes, it isn't nearly long enough to explore all the issues. But it is amazing how much it does in an hour and a half. One of the best movies of 2004 so far. 9/10.
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Possible the BEST documentary on the death penalty you will ever see!!!
SONNYK_USA11 June 2004
This is one of those amazing documentaries that looks like it'd be deadly dull 'on paper' and then manages to completely blow your mind as it comes off the big screen. In an amazing turn of events a pharmacist turned politician decides to look deeper than the statistics, and investigate the cases of every person currently on death row in Illinois. His reason for doing so is mainly due to the efforts of some students in a journalism class who began to re-stage cases histories as part of a school project and found out that many of the death row convicts were innocent beyond the shadow of a doubt. Is the justice system biased against the poor? Or people of color?? OR is it merely inadequate due to the tremendous pressures placed on prosecutors to resolve high profile case??? In any event, what the Governor of Illinois attempts to do as he completes his term of office is the most amazingly humane investigation ever undertaken. If every governor in the USA would re-evaluate the death row penal system the way Illinois' George Ryan did, we wouldn't need a Supreme Court to decide these types of issues at all. This is a MUST-SEE documentary that at this time has no USA distributor. (go figure?) Governor Ryan's decision is the perfect ending to a perfectly made documentary, here's hoping everyone gets to see this film (someday).
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similar to thin blue line and brother's keeper
chris miller11 October 2004
Warning: Spoilers
may be some spoilers...kirsten johnson, one of two directors for this film, was also a cinematographer on fahrenheit 9/11 and derrida, so she's a talent to watch. this documentary is similar to thin blue line or brother's keeper, but takes a more systemic, macro view of the issue. it focuses on the governor of illinois' struggle with whether or not to commute all death penalty sentences. the film saves that decision for the end and builds the argument against the death penalty using a two-pronged attack - it highlights both the ethical and systemic problems. the film convincingly demonstrates the fact that the death penalty is largely applied to the poor and people of color, and shows dozens of cases which were overturned - some only because college classes took up cases as class projects. there is a token effort made to show the opinions of the other side. captures some emotional footage including one hearing in which the parents of a murderer and his victim are in the same room. the victim's father makes his plea to the court for the death penalty and turns to the mother of the murderer and says "i'm sorry, but i can't forgive your son for what he did. i just want him to die." she says she understands and feels horrible, but still doesn't think it's right to kill her son in retaliation. the hero of the film is governor ryan who, despite having orgins as a small town republican, honestly weighed the facts and made an informed and gutsy decision. thumbs up to him and this film. B+.
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Death penalty on trial
Kansas-520 January 2008
My wife and I watched this dramatic documentary on Free Speech T.V. I was prompted to call two death penalty attorney friends in Colorado and Oregon to alert them that it was playing.

It documents the initiative that caused journalism students in Chicago to pursue old, closed cases, to find that a dozen innocent men had been condemned to death. They uncovered law enforcement malfeasance, rigged trials, even the identity of a true murderer from whom they obtained a confession and corroboration from the killer's wife.

Besides the human drama other commentators here have noted, it displays a stellar example of community organizing and media work.

The cinematography is near-flawless, the editing superb.

Perhaps the most stirring part of the entire film is the documentation of the angst felt by the Governor of Illinois, George Ryan, who wrestled with competing interests of the families of both victims and the convicted, with pressures from all sides of the political spectrum and how he ultimately resolved himself to the decision he made.

At the end, one litigant's attorney states that if justice was so flawed in Chicago, how bad might it be in other states, such as Florida (where James Joseph Richardson was railroaded for the murders of his seven children and spent 19 years in prison, including three on death row, while the true killer was ignored), North Carolina (see review for the "Trials of Darryl Hunt" on IMDb) and Texas (where George Bush and Alberto Gonzales were involved in the execution of the wrongfully convicted such as Ruben Cantu)?
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important issue
SnoopyStyle10 December 2015
In 2002, pro-death penalty Illinois Governor George Ryan is at the end of his term. A group of Northwestern student does a class project and exonerates death row inmates. The Chicago Tribune writes about the story and Ryan comes to question the infallibility of the death sentence. Ryan claims 13 are released with 12 executed. The system has become no better than a coin flip. He institutes a clemency board to review all of the convictions. The movie examines the history of the death penalty from its use against minorities, the 1972 Supreme Court case abolishing it, the 1976 case reinstating it and various convicts facing that final walk.

It's a compelling and important issue. It's also a fascinating moment in time for this issue. This has plenty of information. However it's not much more than a TV investigative report. It's very scattered. It needs to concentrate on fewer people. The doc needs to concentrate on that university class and their cases and Governor Ryan. Some of the convicts seem to be presented as innocent but they are just as easily be lying.
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