Published on July 23rd, 2013 | by Allan Brown0
Dead Man Walking Review
Movie Review: Dead man walking (1995)
Director: Tim Robbins
Writers: Helen Prejean (book), Tim Robbins
Cast: Susan Sarandon, Sean Penn, Robert Prosky
Plot: Sister Helen Prejean (Susan Sarandon), a nun who whilst offering spiritual guidance to Matthew Poncelet (Sean Penn), a convicted killer on death row, is faced with his victim’s grieving families.
Actor/Director Tim Robbins presents his second feature film in this acutely humane and poignant character driven drama Dead Man Walking. The narrative draws on a profound relationship between a compassionate humanitarian and a man who is awaiting his execution on death row.
The film itself is an adaptation from the real life experiences from Sister Helen Prejean, a Roman Catholic nun whose services included spiritual guidance for Death Row inmates in Louisiana’s state penitentiary. The film bravely asks us to question our own moral standpoint, our thoughts on the consequences of murder, our human need for revenge as a society and our own moral truth on justice.
Matthew Poncelet (Sean Penn) has spent six years in the Louisiana State Prison for the murder of a young couple. He now faces the death sentence whilst Carl Vitello, his older accomplice serves a life term (20 years). With Poncelet’s execution date getting closer, he attempt to get an appeal by contacting Sister Helen Prejean (Susan Sarandon). While Sister Helen is torn between her duty as a nun and the atrocities Poncelet has committed, their meetings become more frequent as she secures a state lawyer willing to take on the case. While working towards changing Poncelets verdict to life, she visits the families he affected and discovers that they have no understanding for what she is doing and that their only wish is to see Poncelet die for what he did to their children. As Sister Prejean slowly breaks down Poncelets arrogant exterior and emotional barriers, we are drawn into a powerful battle between remorse and approval and the question of what is justice.
Whatever is your stance is on the death penalty debate, this movie will, at the very least, make you reflect on why you feel the way you do.
Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn offer incomparably powerful performances that are truly faultless. Both actors manage to create roles with a weight of believability and emotional depth that is unmatched. The transformation of Penn’s character as he slowly opens up during the course of the film is astonishing and thus showing us the essence of a person uncloaked.
Both received awards for their fearless performances including, The Silver Bear for Best Actor Sean Penn at the 46th Berlin International Film Festival in 1996 and the Academy Award for Best Actress Susan Sarandon at the 68th Academy Awards. The supporting cast all offer fine performances in their respective roles, most notably, R. Lee Ermey as Clyde Percy, Robert Prosky as Hilton Barber and Raymond J. Barry Earl Delacroix.
Despite the films central theme, this deeply evocative tale is a remarkably well balanced experience that never forces opinion. Robbins never tries to excuse or diminish the horrible nature of the crime committed by Penn’s character. He shows us the grief of the families whose children were taken away, and the consequential emotional impact it had on their life. At the same time, running parallel to this, he shows us the human side of the murderer who committed these crimes as they await society’s final judgement, in his last precious moments of life, thus creating a multifaceted examination on the death penalty debate.
Whatever is your stance is on the death penalty debate, this movie will, at the very least, make you reflect on why you feel the way you do. There is not one false note placed.
Summary: Masterfully directed with two exceptional leading performances, this deeply emotive character drama offers an impartial examination on the capital punishment debate that is quite simply, captivating.