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Dead Man Walking (1995)

  Directed by: Tim Robbins
Written by: Helen Prejean, Tim Robbins
Starring: Raymond J. Barry, R. Lee Ermey, Sean Penn, Susan Sarandon, Celia Weston
Links: Dead Man Walking on the IMDb, Buy on DVD, Buy on Video, Buy the Soundtrack, Buy the Book
Genre: Drama

This movie gets: 6.50 (2 ratings)
nofreelist.com Ranking: Ranked equal 121st of 187 movies (2 ratings minimum; see full chart)

Dead Man Walking (1995) is also mentioned in mino's review of The Life of David Gale (2003).

"Warning: film doesn't try to force its point of view onto you" - a review by andy-j

Speaking of warnings, here's another: this review contains possible spoilers. I hate the word 'spoilers', does the job though.

This is a film of the story of Sister Helen Prejean. She is a nun working with children, until one day she receives a letter from a convicted murderer on death row. At his request, she visits him, and soon finds herself caught up in the very controversial issue of capital punishment. This film, based on Sister Helen's own book, explores the issue from her perspective, as she struggles to follow God's teachings by practising forgiveness and understanding, despite the protests of those around her.

I heard an interview with Sister Helen a while ago, which you can check out here. Go and have a listen - it is really powerful stuff. Sister Helen talks about the experiences that this movie documents, and gives her opinion on the whole idea of the death penalty. She sounds very sure of herself, but at the same time, very humble and respectful. Listening to this interview made me want to see this movie.

Unfortunately, Sister Helen does a better job of describing the impact of going through a death-row execution in this ten minute interview than the film does throughout its entire length. The film seems to lack the emotional intensity that it needs, given the subject matter. The characters, particularly that of Matthew Poncelet, feel somewhat distant. We never really get involved enough. As the hour of execution draws closer, you watch the tension escalating, but don't really feel it enough. There are certainly some touching moments, but I was left with the impression that it could have been a lot more emotional than it actually was.

Then again, I wonder whether this is what the film is all about. Is it trying to affect you, or is it just trying to increase your awareness of the issue? Sister Helen is strongly against the death penalty, and I feel that, underneath all of the emotion of it all, Dead Man Walking is really just trying to show you what she has seen. It shows, among other things, how the death penalty often tears the victim's families apart, the reaction of the media and the general public, and the persecution that Sister Helen herself suffered. If this is what the film is actually really trying to achieve, then I think it did a great job, demonstrating a gentle understanding towards both sides of the coin, and not trying to enforce any point of view down our throats.

I really liked Sister Helen's character. She seems unsure of what she is doing, admitting on more than one occasion that she really doesn't understand the path she is going down. She is humble, determined and strong-willed, despite the opposition she faces. Susan Sarandon is very convincing.

Overall, I wonder if this film would have been better as a documentary. I appreciate that this probably wouldn't be possible though - given current laws, you could never film a real execution, and without seeing the execution, much of the film's drive and point would be lost.

andy-j gives this movie 7 out of 10.
Review created on Tue 12 Jul 2005

"Like a jigsaw puzzle with a couple of pieces missing" - a review by pearly

I gotta tell ya, I'm struggling to review this film. I've been trying to think of the perfect word to describe the slightly negative vibe that I took away from it. I mean, let's have a look at the whole thing. Firstly, it's directed by Tim Robbins. He's got a bit of street cred, and he's been involved in some pretty big films of late, all of which have been well accepted. Secondly, it stars Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon, the former of which is in a similar current situation to Robbins, and the latter of which is not my particular favourite, but I don't mind her. Thirdly, it's based on a true story, that of the memoirs of Helen Prejean, played by Sarandon in the film. I like films that are based on true stories.

However, I can't say that this film hit my all-time favourite list. It was done well enough - there was no acting that made me cringe, not really any corny lines (though, being a film about a woman of the cloth who helps a man on death row through his wait, there is a bit in there, but I can forgive that), no terrible jokes, and nothing else that I would usually associate with a bad film. And Dead Man Walking isn't really a bad film. It's just that, and I still haven't figured out how to put it into words, there's a little something missing which makes it lack power.

A man (Penn) is on death row, with this woman he has only just met (Sarandon) being one of the only people out there who can help him through his tough time. This film should be powerful and overwhelming, and though it didn't try to hide its audience from the reality, I found that it lacked a lot of the emotion that it should have had in spades. It felt a little sanitised, a bit too bland. The concepts within it are all quite interesting - like the way in which the dead man walking can hide his true self until he wishes to reveal his hand, and then only to the people that he chooses to. And Sister Helen herself's story is quite an interesting one. So, I don't know exactly what it was that let this film down, but there was something that didn't fit together just right, and it managed to deflate the whole effect of the film for me. Bit of a shame, really.

pearly gives this movie 6 out of 10.
Review created on Thu 7 Jul 2005

Movie review statistics

Number of reviews: 2
Average rating: 6.50
Lowest rating: 6 (by pearly)
Highest rating: 7 (by andy-j)
 
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