Dead Man Walking

Tim Robbins’s second feature as a writer-director (1995), adapted from Sister Helen Prejean’s autobiographical book of the same title, has its awkward and square moments directorially, but it’s also uncommonly honest and seriousrare enough qualities these daysand its two powerful lead performances (Susan Sarandon as Prejean and Sean Penn as a rapist and killer she’s trying to save in more ways than one) are ample reason to see the picture. Not the simple polemic against capital punishment one might have expected, this works very hard to see and even honor the viewpoint of the victims’ families, and ultimately respects the audience to make up its own mind. It’s a film about hatred on both sides of the lawthe kind of subject Samuel Fuller has often dealt withand it doesn’t kowtow to easy effects or platitudes. (JR)

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