Dead Man Walking (1995)
Reviewed on 2007 June 8
OK, I know you’re not supposed to be biased when you review a movie, so I’m going to say this was a hard thing for me to watch and hope it explains any prejudice in my review. I didn’t think the movie was particularly even-handed, despite how well-acted it was. The whole thing seemed predicated on how much sympathy it could garner for the killer, and given the nature of the crimes, the day that happens for me, Hell will have great snowboarding. It’s based on real-life anti-death penalty activist Sister Helen Prejean (Susan Sarandon) and her involvement in the case of Elmo Patrick Sonnier.
One day Sister Prejean gets a letter from convicted criminal Matthew Poncelet (Sean Penn), who got the death penalty for the rape and double murder of two teens. She starts lobbying to get his sentence commuted to life, to the distress of the victims’ parents. While she doesn’t condone in any way what Poncelet did, she feels there’s no way to justify taking another life.
Penn and Sarandon are very, very good in this, with Sarandon even doing her thing with a convincing southern accent. I don’t understand the wasted sympathy on Poncelet, but to the movie’s credit there’s a scene where even Prejean reminds the depressed Poncelet of the horror of what he’s done. My quarrel was with the depiction of the victim’s parents as (initially) vengeful and the judges and other law enforcement officials as somewhat heartless. Give me a break. I can see where Sister Prejean is coming from, but if you lost a loved one to a violent crime and then had someone trying to soften the punishment of the killer, how gracious would you feel towards them?
Three chocolate morsels. I’m not agreeing with a word of this thing, but Tim Robbins did write a good script.