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Tim Robbins
Susan Sarandon, Sean Penn, Robert Prosky, Raymond J. Barry, R. Lee Ermey, Celia Weston, Lois Smith
Writing Credits:
Helen Prejean (book), Tim Robbins

A nun, while comforting a convicted killer on death row, empathizes with both the killer and his victim's families.

Box Office:
$11 million.
Opening Weekend
$118.266 thousand on 4 screens.
Domestic Gross
$39.025 million.

Rated R

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
French Dolby Surround 2.0
Spanish Dolby Surround 2.0
Portuguese Dolby Surround 2.0
German DTS 5.1
Italian Dolby Surround 2.0
Castilian Dolby Surround 2.0
Hungarian Dolby Surround 2.0
Bahasa Indonesian
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 122 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 4/14/2011

• Audio Commentary by Director Tim Robbins
• Trailer


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Dead Man Walking [Blu-Ray] (1995)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 26, 2011)

Along with abortion, capital punishment has always been one of those “hot button” issues on which the two sides will not – and cannot – ever agree. They’re really all or nothing: either you support the death penalty or you don’t.

For a film that clearly takes the anti-death penalty approach, we go to 1995’s Dead Man Walking. Sister Helen Prejean (Susan Sarandon) begins a correspondence with Matthew Poncelet (Sean Penn), a death row inmate. Convicted of murder and rape, Matthew claims he didn’t kill anyone and asks Sister Helen to help him appeal before he receives a lethal injection. The film follows their relationship as Sister Helen grows closer to Poncelet and we learn more about his case and past – as well as her own history.

If you look up “bleeding heart liberal” in the dictionary, you’re certain to find pictures of Sarandon, Penn and/or director Tim Robbins. Other contributors like musicians Eddie Vedder and Bruce Springsteen fall pretty close to that particular tree as well, so you might expect Walking to provide a shrill anti-death penalty screed with less subtlety than a Michael Moore movie.

You’d expect wrong – very wrong, in fact. I do feel that Walking leans in the direction of the argument against capital punishment, but I don’t think it does so in a way so strong that it comes across as truly biased. For me, only one sequence seems notably slanted: the one in which we see the scene outside the prison when another inmate gets executed. While the pro-death penalty crowd whoops, hollers and acts like they’re at a pep rally, the anti-capital punishment folks offer the model of civility and spiritual security.

That’s it – that’s the only part of the movie that seems biased to me, and even that’s a minor sequence. The rest of the film comes across as pretty even-handed, though again, it does lean toward the anti-death penalty crowd. Given that it’s based on the story of the real Sister Helen, this is inevitable; it tells her first-person tale, so we’re going to more closely identify with her feelings.

And those sequences will dominate, but they don’t exist in a vacuum. Walking makes sure it features the other side of the coin and ensures that we view the pain and suffering of the victims as well as their families. Indeed, when the flick could wallow solely in pathos, it intercuts shots of Matthew’s execution with shots of his crime. Rather than stay with the drama of his demise, it reminds us what brought him to that point.

This balance helps keep Walking involving, and I also appreciate the subdued manner in which Robbins tales the story. Although we meet characters with inflamed passions, the movie doesn’t fly off the handle along with them. I wouldn’t call it cold and clinical, but it maintains an even keel that suits it. Robbins easily could’ve embraced simple melodrama, but he ensures that the film remains dignified, a factor that helps accentuate debate; without attempts to actively sway our viewpoint, the movie opens itself up for discussion.

Though I do expect that Walking did more for the anti-death penalty side, as it offers a human face behind an execution. Not a particularly sympathetic face, though, which is actually part of what makes the movie effective. Walking presents a pretty reprehensible guy: Poncelet is a racist who clearly is a low-life in many ways. Even though the flick leaves his true involvement in the crime a mystery until close to its finale, we still know that Poncelet is a bad person; whatever his specific sins may be, they’re obviously multiple.

Penn offers a sublime performance as Poncelet. He doesn’t try to make the character likable or sympathetic, but he also avoids easy “villain” traits. He provides a complex turn that lets us view Poncelet as a person instead of just the sum of his crimes.

Sarandon won an Oscar for her work, and I think she deserved it, as she gets a difficult role. Sister Helen essentially acts as the viewer’s surrogate. She’s not quite a blank slate, but she’s in unfamiliar territory here, and she must develop her opinions as she goes. We see the film through her eyes, and like Penn, she doesn’t mail in easy emotions. Instead, Sarandon doesn’t take strong sides; Sister Helen hates the sin but grows to love the sinner, and Sarandon ably demonstrates that balancing act.

All of these factors help make Walking a classy, thought-provoking drama. It avoids many simple pitfalls and manages to deliver about as even-handed a take on the death penalty as I can imagine. And an emotional one as well.

The Disc Grades: Picture C+/ Audio C+/ Bonus C

Dead Man Walking appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. The movie featured a pretty average transfer.

Sharpness varied. The movie usually looked acceptably detailed but rarely much more than that. Not too many scenes were really ill-defined, but few came across as particularly distinctive, as most of Walking was acceptably concise and no more. Jagged edges and shimmering caused no concerns, and edge enhancement was absent. In terms of print defects, I noticed a few specks and one prominent streak, but much of the film appeared clean.

Colors seemed erratic. For the most part, the hues came across as somewhat flat, with pinkish skin tones; the colors were acceptable but not memorable. Black levels tended to appear decent – if a little inky - while shadow detail was fine. All of this added up to a “C+” transfer.

Nothing special emerged from the DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio of Dead Man Walking either. A chatty movie, the soundscape didn’t open up too much. Effects broadened matters in a minor way, such as with thunder and some street elements. A, the flick really concentrated on dialogue, so effects didn’t have much to do. This was a track with a narrow focus, and music didn’t add much either; the film used a spare score that displayed good stereo presence when necessary but didn’t appear often.

Audio quality was mostly fine. At times, I thought speech was somewhat thin and reedy, but the lines remained intelligible at all times. Effects remained a minor part of the mixes, so they didn’t stand out in any way. Those elements seemed accurate enough, but they weren’t memorable. Music was the most positive side of the track, as the low-key score/songs seemed warm and full. This was a decidedly subdued mix.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we find an audio commentary from director Tim Robbins. He delivers a running, screen-specific look at music, cast and performances, character/story/adaptation notes, sets and locations, cinematography, and a few connected areas.

Robbins offers a somewhat dry but informative chat. While he makes his position on the death penalty clear, he avoids any shrill speechifying and mostly focuses on issues connected to the film’s creation. Robbins gives us a nice examination of the movie here.

With polarizing subject matter and an unsympathetic main subject, Dead Man Walking should’ve been a shrill cartoon of a movie. However, it offers an involving examination of its topics and benefits from excellent acting as its core. The Blu-ray provides average picture and audio along with a good audio commentary. This isn’t a dazzling Blu-ray, but the movie deserves your attention.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.9642 Stars Number of Votes: 28
0 3:
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