Dead Man Walking (Blu-ray)
You might be surprised to hear that I never saw DEAD MAN WALKING back when it came out in 1995. In fact, I have never seen it until right before this review. I expected a film about a man on death row and a nun who comforts and helps him on his way. However, I was not expecting an emotionally deep film that explores every angle of those who are involved and affected by the convicted killer and his soon to be execution.
Prison inmate Matthew Poncelet (Sean Penn) has just a short time before his death sentence is carried out. In hopes to get an appeal on his sentence he writes a letter to Sister Helen Prejean (Susan Sarandon) asking for help and pleading his innocence. An active leader within a poor community in Louisiana helping children in a learning center, Sister Helen is always willing to offer her assistance when asked. After listening to the convicted killer and rapist’s story along with meeting his poor mother and siblings, she agrees to fight the death penalty and become Poncelet’s spiritual counselor. Supporting such a bad man comes with obvious opposition. The most affected are the brutally murdered young couple’s parents. Their pain is something Sister Helen has overlooked. As they each recount the anger and feelings toward losing their child, Sister Helen empathizes with both sides of the families. However, she is unwavering in her belief to save even the most brutal of people. Sticking by Poncelet through his last days, Sister Helen slowly breaks down his barriers. Sharing the Bible and love, she unwraps the mystery of what truly happened that fateful evening where two young lovers were brutally raped and murdered and hopefully saves a soul in the process.
To say this is a dramatically heavy film would be an understatement. Presenting the story without bias, director Tim Robbins does not shy away from showing the audience every detail of all the physical and emotional strife that takes place. Although I believe Mr. Robbins is against the death penalty he presents the material honestly so an audience is fully aware of the darkness inflicted upon both families of the victims and their assailant. For a film mostly consisting of two people talking whom wall, glass or bars always divide, Robbins deserves a lot of credit for presenting them in creative new ways. I was continually impressed by his patience with a scene, knowing when to give the actors space and also when to end a scene so the story would not get too stagnant. Hanging on every moment, I was in awe of the depths the film captured and what would ultimately transpire.
No doubt because of his experience as an actor, Robbins allows his actors room to explore their characters bringing out amazing performances. The acting duo and chemistry of Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn is absolutely phenomenal. They both were well deserving of their Academy Award nomination with Sarandon winning the Best Actress Award. Fully embodying their characters, I believed every word and reaction they displayed. The two of them nearly carry the entire acting load but the supporting roles also deserve credit. From the parents of the murdered kids to the mother and little brothers of the soon to be executed convicted killer, these roles could have easily been looked over but their reactions and emotions are absolutely heartbreaking.
The direction and performances are top notch. And although DEAD MAN WALKING isn’t a movie that I would rewatch anytime soon because of the dark and sad subject matter, it is a marvelous piece of work that I would highly recommend. No matter what your opinion might be of the death penalty, this film will surely make you see a side that you haven’t thought of before. Provoking new thoughts, feelings and discussion, DEAD MAN WALKING accomplishes what all great films should.
Video: (Widescreen 1.85:1) There is nothing very exciting visually but the transfer is clean.
Audio: (5.1 DTS Master Audio) This is a completely dialogue driven film but the vocals are heard clearly.
Audio Commentary by Writer/Director Tim Robbins: Robbins isn’t the most exciting man to listen to with his very subdued introverted commentary. But he does give some interesting insight with only the occasional dead space moments.