Ben Sanderson, a Hollywood screenwriter who lost everything because of his alcoholism, arrives in Las Vegas to drink himself to death. There, he meets and forms an uneasy friendship and non-interference pact with prostitute Sera.
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>
In the heart-shaped symbol at the end of the credits, the initials EMLA, JHR, MGR, and SS stand for Tim Robbins' family with Susan Sarandon (SS) -- Jack Henry Robbins and Miles Guthrie Robbins (their two sons together) and Eva Maria Livia Amurri (Sarandon's daughter with Franco Amurri). See more »
Tim Robbins takes this film beyond its implicit political message and produces a moving piece of art. Though the underlying anti-death penalty moral is prevalent, the director never becomes tendentious. He intersperses the plight of death row inmate Matthew Poncelet with gruesome, if not surreal, images of the crime that he committed. And where one would expect a juxtaposition of the brutality of Poncelet's (and his co-perpetrator's) nefarious act with an equally cruel demonstration of state-sponsored execution, Robbins shows Poncelet's death to be clinical and quiet in comparison to his sordid deed. It is this type of restraint that not only adds credibility to the work but also power.
The performances of Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon as Poncelet and Sister Helen Prejean respectively, are stellar. Penn's grim nuance pervades his character as he moves from stoical rancor to the contrition that provides the denouement. With the incisiveness in which his acting has become associated he provides the edge in which Sarandon impinges her role. Appearing perpetually exhausted, she immerses herself in the sturm and drang of her part and counters Penn's fringe with an enveloping emollient. Even her expostulations and attempts to save Poncelet from perdition do not even approach pontification or the banal.
In the end this movie did not change my opinion on the death penalty; such conversions only occur via gradation. However it did leave a lasting impression on me as powerful as its provocative subject matter.
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