Dead Man Walking

Tim Robbins’s second feature as a writer-director, adapted from Sister Helen Prejean’s autobiographical book of the same title, depicts Prejean’s efforts to save (in more ways than one) a rapist and killer in Louisiana who’s on death row. The direction has its awkward and square moments, but the film is uncommonly honest and serious–a rare quality these days. Not the simple polemic against capital execution one might have expected, it works very hard to acknowledge and even honor the viewpoints of the victims’ families, and ultimately respects the audience’s ability to make up its own mind. This film is about hatred on both sides of the law–the kind of subject Samuel Fuller has often powerfully dealt with–and for the most part it doesn’t settle for easy effects or platitudes. If nothing else, the two powerful and highly intelligent lead performances by Susan Sarandon as Prejean and Sean Penn as the criminal are ample reason to see the picture. McClurg Court, Webster Place.

–Jonathan Rosenbaum

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.

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