Dead Man Walking [1995]

Director: Tim Robbins
Stars: Sean Penn, Robert Prosky
Genre: Crime, Drama
Rating: R (Restricted)
Runtime: 122 minutes

Superbly adapted and directed by Tim Robbins from the nonfiction book of the same name by Sister Helen Prejean, this spiritually enlightened drama is too intelligent to traffic in polemics or self-righteous pontifications against the death penalty. But in examining the issue of capital punishment from a humanitarian perspective, the film urges thoughtful reflection on the justifications for legally ending a human life. Although it features a fine supporting cast, the film maintains its sharp focus through flawless lead performances by Oscar-winner Susan Sarandon as the Catholic nun Prejean, and Sean Penn as the death-row killer she struggles to save. Robbins avoids a biased message, letting the movie examine both sides of the issue instead (R. Lee Ermey gives a fine performance as the grief-stricken father of one of Penn's victims). As the drama unfolds and Penn's execution deadline grows near, Dead Man Walking is graced by compelling depths of theme and character, achieving an emotional impact that demands further reflection and removes the stigma of piousness from socially conscious filmmaking. --Jeff Shannon

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