Film Scouts Reviews

"Dead Man Walking"

by Eleanor Ringel

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Crime and punishment are depicted in cruelly unflinching detail in Tim Robbins' deadly earnest, intermittently powerful death-row drama. Based on the real experiences of a Louisiana nun named Helen Prejean (Susan Sarandon), the movie is about her literal till-death-do-us-part relationship with a convicted murderer (Sean Penn). Both give riveting portrayals (though Penn's arrogant, racist redneck is getting most of the attention). The problem is, the movie isn't really about either character. It's about an issue the pros and cons of the death penalty which means it often lapses into the message-conscious style of a '50s TV drama. Further, any attempt at a balanced discussion (which, presumably, is what Robbins intends) is effectively sabotaged by the casting. Penn, a bonafide star and one of the best actors of his generation, plays the condemned man; playing the angry, grieving parents of his murder victims...well. umm, some really good character actors whose names escape me. (think if Jack Nicholson had been cast as one victim's father). Still, Robbins manages a shatteringly effective final half hour simply by showing us how capital punishment works in every gruesome and dehumanizing detail.

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