Dead Man Walking

on December 29, 1995 by Jean Oppenheimer
A powerfully written, directed and acted film, "Dead Man Walking" confirms Tim Robbins ("Bob Roberts") as a filmmaker of enormous intelligence, thoughtfulness and talent. It's not easy to watch this grim tale (adapted from the book by Sister Helen Prejean) about the relationship between a Death Row inmate and the nun who counsels him in the days before his execution, but the emotional and intellectual rewards of doing so are great.
   Sister Helen Prejean (Susan Sarandon, in arguably her best work ever) agrees to meet with convicted murderer Matthew Poncelet (Sean Penn, in yet another masterful performance) after he writes her a letter from prison. Bigoted and unrepentant, he proves a difficult man to like, both for Sister Helen and for the audience. Nonetheless, she agrees to help him seek a commutation of his sentence, exposing herself to the animosity of the victim's families and her own friends and neighbors.
   Although the film seems to espouse an anti-death penalty stance (being against killing of any kind), the picture doesn't proselytize. Robbins gives equal time to the parents of the dead and flashbacks to the heinous crime. Neither Poncelet nor his relationship with Sister Helen is romanticized; this is not an innocent man, falsely accused. Yet, without minimizing in any way what Poncelet has done, Robbins, Penn and Sarandon instill empathy for him. Intense yet subtlely handled on every level, "Dead Man Walking" is one of the most remarkable and memorable films of 1995. Starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn. Directed and written by Tim Robbins. Produced by Jon Kilik, Tim Robbins and Rudd Simmons. A Gramercy release. Drama. Rated R for a depiction of a rape and murder. Running time: 122 min.
Tags: Susan Sarandon, Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Jon Kilik, Rudd Simmons, Gramercy, Drama

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