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DEAD MAN WALKING
For those of you who have been living under a rock for the past few years, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon make no mistake about which side of
the fence their political beliefs fall yet "Dead Man Walking" toes the line of politics admirably. This is not an "in your face" drama bemoaning
the woes of the condemned nor is it an advocate of capital punishment. Rather, this beautifully crafted film points an unblinking eye at the
characters that are caught up in any heinous crime and allows the audience to truly feel everyone's pain. Certainly, one will probably come away
from the experience with a certain amount of sympathy for convicted killer Matthew Poncelet (convincingly played by Sean Penn who has traveled a
great distance since his portrayal of Spicoli in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High") but Robbins has crafted this film in such a way that the audience
is not distanced appreciably from the horror Poncelet created nor the pain suffered by the victims' families.
Sarandon plays Sister Helen Prejean who is forced to balance her desire to help Poncelet with her disgust for the racist bigot he is and the acts for which he has been convicted and sentenced to death. The duality of her character is revealed in a number of scenes depicting her own childhood in which she assists in the killing of an animal and her realization that she has only allowed herself to see Poncelet's side of the murders for which he will soon be executed. She is clearly between a rock and a hard place and Robbins unflinchingly allows the complexity of the issues of capital punishment, religion, and victim's rights to unfold gracefully and without resorting to painting static characters who do not allow themselves to have contradictory feelings about the deaths that have occurred or the one they will soon witness.
Most of the characters in the film are allowed to develop organically; without the need for stereotypical reaction or static representation and this style affords the film an even greater sense of reality than other projects with similarly "heavy" themes. Robbins avoids the traditional, heavy-handed approach to filmmaking and the result is pure success. Regardless of your position regarding the appropriateness of capital punishment, this is an experience to relish and one I unhesitatingly recommend.
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