Dead Man Walking

Better late than never is a recurring theme for me when it comes to movies. Here is an awesomely acted movie from the 90s. Dead Man Walking is a 1995 American crime drama film starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn, and co-produced and directed by Tim Robbins, who adapted the screenplay from the non-fiction book of the same name. The movie also sees roles from a young Jack Black, Scott Wilson, Peter Sarsgaard, R. Lee Emery, Roberta Maxwell and the late Robert Prosky.

Sarandon plays Sister Helen Prejean, a non-habit wearing nun from a rich family in Louisiana, who has corresponded with death row inmate Matthew Poncelet. Poncelet has been in death row for 6 years after being convicted of raping a young girl and killing both her and her boyfriend. His older friend with whom he committed the crimes, a man named Carl Vitello, who was sentenced to life imprisonment. With just a few days left before his execution, Poncelet asks Helen to help him with a final appeal. Helen, who usually helps the poor and orphans, agrees and goes to meet him at the prison. In her interactions, as well as some tv interviews, Matthew comes out as being arrogant, sexist and racist and shows no remorse. He affirms his innocence, insisting Vitello killed the two teenagers. Convincing an experienced attorney to take on Poncelet’s case pro bono, Sister Helen tries to have his sentence commuted to life imprisonment.

Slowly he starts to open up to her. Helen also goes to visit his mother and brothers and also visits the families of the two teenagers. The families do not understand Sister Helen’s efforts to help Poncelet, claiming she is “taking his side.” Instead they desire “absolute justice”—his life for the lives of their children. The application for a pardon is denied and Matthew prepares himself for his execution. As the day nears, Matthew asks Helen to be his spiritual advisor on his final day, to which she agrees, despite the misgivings of the pastor. As she talks to him about redemption, Helen advises Matthew that to be redeemed, he must confess his crimes. Just before he is taken from his cell, Poncelet admits to Sister Helen that he killed the boy and raped the girl. As he is prepared for execution, he appeals to the boy’s father for forgiveness and tells the girl’s parents he hopes his death brings them peace. Poncelet is executed by lethal injection and later given a proper burial. The murdered boy’s father attends the ceremony still filled with hate, but shortly after begins to pray with Sister Helen, ending the film.

A stunning showcase of two heavyweights when it comes to award winning acting, this film is a must see despite the lack of fast paced scenes or major shocks etc. At the 68th Academy Awards, Dead Man Walking was nominated in four different categories: Susan Sarandon won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role, Sean Penn was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor, Tim Robbins was nominated for Best Director and its main track “Dead Man Walkin'” by Bruce Springsteen was nominated for Best Song. Awesome mood music by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam sets the tone as well. A solid 8.5 outta 10!

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