|Dead Man Walking|
Dead Man Walking film poster
|Directed by||Tim Robbins|
|Produced by||Jon Kilik
|Written by||Helen Prejean (book Dead Man Walking as Sister Helen Prejean C.S.J.)
|Editing by||Lisa Zeno Churgin|
|Studio||PolyGram Filmed Entertainment
Working Title Films
|Distributed by||Gramercy Pictures (USA)|
|Release date(s)||December 29, 1995 (USA)|
|Running time||122 minutes|
Dead Man Walking is a 1995 film based on the book of the same name, which 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.
Matthew Poncelet has been in prison six years, awaiting his execution by lethal injection for killing a teenage couple. He committed the crime in company with a man named Carl Vitello, who received life imprisonment as a result of being able to pay for a better lawyer.
Now Poncelet appeals to Sister Helen as the day of his execution comes closer and closer. He wants her to help him with a final appeal.
She decides to visit him, and he comes across as arrogant, sexist and racist, apparently not even pretending to feel any kind of remorse. Instead he affirms his innocence, insisting it was Carl who killed the two teenagers.
Convincing an experienced attorney to take on Matthew's case pro bono, Sister Helen tries to achieve lifelong confinement for Poncelet. Over time, after many visits, she establishes a special relationship with him.
While doing that she gets to know Poncelet’s mother and the victims’ families. The victims’ families don’t understand Sister Helen's efforts to help Poncelet, claiming she is "taking his side." Instead they desire "absolute justice," as they call it, namely his life for the lives of their children.
Sister Helen’s application is declined, so the day of the execution comes closer and closer. The only salvation for Poncelet is – so Sister Prejean thinks – a confession.
It’s not until the end he admits having killed the boy and raped the girl. Just before his execution, he appeals to the boy's parents for forgiveness and tells the girl's parents he hopes his death brings them peace. In the end, Poncelet is administered lethal injection and given a proper burial. The murdered boy's father attends the ceremony and begins to pray with Sister Helen, ending the film.
Susan Sarandon won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role. Sean Penn was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role, Tim Robbins for Best Director and its main track, " Dead Man Walkin' " by Bruce Springsteen for Best Song.
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 length of 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 stated by Sister Helen 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'".