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Dead Man Walking

A superb display of excellent acting in a powerful examination of the capital punishment issue. Complicated characters weave in and out of the last few days of a convicted murderer as a nun tries to understand her compassion, her sense of justice, her faith and the place of forgiveness in a society filled with rage, vengeance and disgust.

Based on the true story written by Sister Helen Prejean, played believeably by Susan Sarandon (I was not sure this was possible), the narrative faces the issues head-on. The prisoner Poncelot is fleshed out by Sean Penn, sporting comedy facial hair throughout, ranging from angry to frustrated, from superficial to vindictive, from mysterious to repentant.

Helen's prayer for help as she seeks to provide support to the prisoner, when they are both treated with disdain by the guards, the court, her friends and the system struck me with the force that comes from honest scriptwriting, and unintrusive direction (Tim Robbins). But of course it was also down to acting by someone who respects the woman she is portraying. the less-lovely-than-usual Sarandon won the best actress oscar for this performance.

Without giving away the denouement, the themes develop towards a powerful conclusion as Poncelot faces his victims' parents and Helen faces her discovery that she really can bring the love of God to a man; even such a man as this.

The conversion/repentance/revelation issues are fudged slightly, as Hollywood has little time for theological niceties, but it's great to be watching a credible film with strong production values handling spiritual matters with style and integrity.

It's not much fun, but the weight of the issues deserve this excellent treatment.

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