- Dead Man Walking (film)
Dead Man Walking
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Tim Robbins Produced by Tim Robbins
Written by Tim Robbins Based on Dead Man Walking by
Sister Helen Prejean C.S.J.
Starring Susan Sarandon
Music by David Robbins Cinematography Roger A. Deakins Editing by Lisa Zeno Churgin Studio PolyGram Filmed Entertainment
Working Title Films
Distributed by Gramercy Pictures Release date(s) December 29, 1995 Running time 122 minutes Country United States Language English Budget $11 million Box office $86,387,284
Dead Man Walking is a 1995 American drama film directed by Tim Robbins, who adapted the screenplay from the non-fiction book of the same name. It tells the story of Sister Helen Prejean (played by Susan Sarandon), who establishes a special relationship with Matthew Poncelet (played by Sean Penn), a prisoner on death row in Louisiana.
Matthew Poncelet (Sean Penn) has been in prison six years, awaiting his execution by lethal injection for killing a teenage couple. Poncelet, located in the Louisiana State Penitentiary, committed the crimes with a man named Carl Vitello (Michael Cullen), who received life imprisonment. As the day of his execution comes closer and closer, Poncelet asks Sister Helen to help him with a final appeal.
She decides to visit him, and he comes across as arrogant, sexist, and racist, not even pretending to feel any kind of remorse. Instead he affirms his innocence, insisting it was Vitello who killed the two teenagers. Convincing an experienced attorney to take on Poncelet's case pro bono, Sister Helen tries to obtain life imprisonment for Poncelet. Over time, after many visits, she establishes a special relationship with him. At the same time, she gets to know Poncelet’s mother (Roberta Maxwell) and the victims’ families. The families don’t understand Sister Helen's efforts to help Poncelet, claiming she is "taking his side." Instead they desire "absolute justice," namely his life for the lives of their children.
Sister Helen’s application for a pardon is declined. Poncelet asks Sister Helen to be his spiritual advisor through the day of execution, and she agrees. Sister Helen tells Poncelet that his redemption is possible only if he takes responsibility for what he did. Just before he is taken from his cell, Poncelet admits to Sister Helen that he killed the boy and raped the girl. During his execution, he appeals to the boy's parents for forgiveness and tells the girl's parents he hopes his death brings them peace. Poncelet is then executed and later given a proper burial. The murdered boy's father attends the ceremony and begins to pray with Sister Helen, ending the film.
- Susan Sarandon as Sister Helen Prejean
- Sean Penn as Matthew Poncelet
- Robert Prosky as Hilton Barber
- Raymond J. Barry as Earl Delacroix
- R. Lee Ermey as Clyde Percy
- Celia Weston as Mary Beth Percy
- Lois Smith as Helen's mother
- Michael Cullen as Carl Vitello
- Scott Wilson as Chaplain Farlely
- Roberta Maxwell as Lucille Poncelet
- Jack Black as Craig Poncelet
- Peter Sarsgaard as Walter Delacroix
- Missy Yager as Hope Percy
The film was a family affair for Tim Robbins. In addition to his longtime companion Susan Sarandon, his father, Gil Robbins (Bishop Norwich), mother Mary Robbins (aide to the governor), sister Adele Robbins (nurse), and sons Jack Henry Robbins (opossum kid) and Miles Robbins (boy in church) all played in the film. His brother, David Robbins, composed the soundtrack.
The film was very well received by critics and currently holds a 94% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes, and an 80 out of 100 on Metacritic . Hal Hinson of The Washington Post commented: "What this intelligent, balanced, devastating movie puts before us is nothing less than a contest between good and evil." Kenneth Turan of The Los Angeles Times described the acting: "For this kind of straight-ahead movie to work, the acting must be strong without even a breath of theatricality, and in Penn and Sarandon, 'Dead Man Walking' has performers capable of making that happen." Roger Ebert called the film "absorbing, surprising, technically superb and worth talking about for a long time afterward."
At the 68th Academy Awards, Dead Man Walking was nominated in four different categories: Susan Sarandon won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role, Sean Penn was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor, Tim Robbins for Best Director and its main track, " Dead Man Walking' " by Bruce Springsteen for Best Song. At the Golden Globes, Sarandon and Penn received nominations for their acting while Robbins received one for best screenplay.
Dead Man Walking debuted on December 29, 1995 in the United States. With a budget of $11 million, the film grossed $39,387,284 in the United States and $47,000,000 internationally, for a total of $86,387,284.
The film consolidates two different people whom Prejean counseled on Death Row into one character, as well as merging their crimes and their victims' families into one event. Lesser details were also removed to shorten the film.
In reality, Elmo Patrick Sonnier (Poncelet in the adaptation) was executed in the electric chair. Director Tim Robbins opted to use lethal injection in the adaptation because, as Sister Helen said in an interview, "He took away the electric chair and said we need to use lethal injection because we don't want to give people the moral out whereby people could say 'oh well, we used to do electrocution but that's too barbaric so now we are humane and inject them'".
- ^ "Dead Man Walking." The Washington Post. Retrieved on September 2, 2010.
- ^ Hinson, Hal (January 12, 1996). "A Tale of Giving the Devil His Due". The Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/longterm/movies/videos/deadmanwalking.htm#hinson. Retrieved July 11, 2010.
- ^ Turan, Kenneth (December 29, 1995). "Movie Review Dead Man Walking". The Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on December 17, 2007. http://web.archive.org/web/20071217034752/http://www.calendarlive.com/movies/reviews/cl-movie960406-2,0,4564347.story. Retrieved July 11, 2010.
- ^ Ebert, Roger (January 12, 1996). "Dead Man Walking". Chicago Sun-Times. http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19960112/REVIEWS/601120301. Retrieved July 11, 2010.
- ^ "Box Office Data for Dead Man Walking". http://www.the-numbers.com/movies/1995/0DMWL.php.
- ^ Trivia for Dead Man Walking
- Dead Man Walking at the Internet Movie Database
- Dead Man Walking at Rotten Tomatoes
- Dead Man Walking at Box Office Mojo
- Dead Man Walking at the Arts & Faith Top100 Spiritually Significant Films list
- Interview with Sister Helen Prejean
- Dead Man Walking review from Entertainment Weekly
- "Entertainment Watch: Dead Man Walking" from AmericanCatholic.org, April 1996 James Arnold's Catholic view on the film
- Sister Helen Prejean: The Real Woman Behind "Dead Man Walking" by John Bookser Feister from AmericanCatholic.org
Films directed by Tim Robbins
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