Dead Man Walking (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

May 17, 2011 by  

Possibly one of the most thought provoking films that deals with the death penalty.  Tim Robbins uses the film to ask the question, especially for Christians, if one who is against murder, can condone the murder of another by execution?  A topic that will continue to be hotly debated, Tim Robbins’ “Dead Man Walking” is a film worth watching!

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TITLE: Dead Man Walking


DURATION: 122 minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (widescreen 1:85:1), English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, Spanish Dolby Surround Sound, French Dolby Digital Surround Sound, Subtitles: English SDH, French

RATED: R (A Depiction of Rape and Murder)

COMPANY: Grammercy/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc./Twentieth Century Fox

RELEASE DATE: May 10, 2011

Directed by Tim Robbins

Based on the book by “Dead Man Walking” by Helen Prejean

Written by Tim Robbins

Produced by Jon Kilik, Tim Robbins, Rudd Simmons

Executive Producer: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner

Associate Producer: Allan F. Nicholls, Mark Seldis, R.A. White

Music by David Robbins

Cinematography by Roger Deakins

Edited by Lisa Zeno Churgin, Ray Hubley

Casting by Douglas Aibel

Production Design by Richard Hoover

Art Direction by Tom Warren

Costume Design by Renee Ehrlich Kalfus


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

Scott Wilson as Chaplain Farley

Roberta Maxwell as Lucille Poncelet

Margo Martindale as Sister colleen

Barton Heyman as Captain Beliveau

Steve Boles as Sgt. Neal Trapp

Nesbitt Blaisdell as Warden Hartman

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

An intelligent, surprising film from director Tim Robbins.

Actor Tim Robbins may be known for his spectacular role in films such as “The Shawshank Redemption” and “Mystic River”, but the actor is also a director who received critical praise in 1995 for his film “Dead Man Walking” starring actress Susan Sarandon and actor Sean Penn.

The film which was budgeted at $11 million, would go to make over $86 million in the box office.

“Dead Man Walking” begins with Sister Helen Prejean (played by Susan Sarandon) working in the inner city.  One day, she receives a letter from an inmate on death row, Matthew Poncelet (played by Sean Penn), in hopes that she can help with his final appeal.

So, Sister Helen goes to visit him at the Louisiana State Penitentiary and learns about how Matthew Poncelet and Carl Vitello (played by Michael Cullen) are in prison for the rape and murder of two teenagers, a couple who were in lover’s lane.

We learn in the movie of how vile Matthew Poncelet is but he was born form a harsh and impoverished background and upon instinct, he reacts.

And although he comes across as one of the vilest, arrogant, sexist and racists and non-remorseful human beings on the planet, he wants Sister Helen with his final appeal as he claims that his friend Carl Vitello was responsible for the murders of the teenagers.

So, Sister Helen tries to do all she can to help Matthew find faith but also to help him obtain life imprisonment instead of execution which infuriates the victim’s family.

The family want justice for the murder of their children but since Sister Helen follows her faith and that murder of any kind is unjustified, including execution, Sister Helen knows that the crime is wrong but for Christians or anyone, can one ask for justice in the form of execution of a human being.

Sister Helen does all she can to help Matthew Poncelet but also to help him find faith in God and to show God forgives but first he must accept God into his heart.

Tim Robbins’ film takes a look at Christianity but also how one can condone murder but yet is easily accepting of execution for the sake of justice.


“Dead Man Walking” is presented in 1080p High Definition (widescreen 1:85:1).  And once again, I’m pretty impressed with how good this film looks.  It’s not soft at all, there is a good amount of grain (some may feel there is a bit too much grain) but colors are well saturated and there is good detail.   You can see the detail in Sean Penn’s goatee and also the detail of the wood separating both prison and sister Helen.  As well as the detail around the fabric of the clothing.


“Dead Man Walking” is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, Spanish and French Dolby Surround.  This is a dialogue driven film, you’re not going to find much action.  But there is one scene and that is the actual rape/murder scene where you hear the surround channel kick in with the ambient noise and if anything, that scene may enhance one’s feeling towards the victim and those who were responsible for the horrible act.

Subtitles are in English SDH, Spanish, French


“Dead Man Walking” comes with the following special feature:

  • Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by Tim Robbins.  Robbins gives us insight to the making of the film, especially his thoughts on capturing the execution but also showing the rape/murder scene.
  • Theatrical Trailer – (2:23) The original theatrical trailer for “Dead Man Walking”.

A powerful and thought provoking film, coming from Tim Robbins is a film that makes people wonder about the death penalty.

The involvement of Christians, to love one another vs. an eye-for-an-eye and using the character of Sister Helen to focus on the role of Christianity, her role of serving God and although she condones the murders that were committed, she doesn’t feel that one should be killed for justice and thus her fight for a life in prison term for Matthew Poncelet and use his final days as a way to reach out to him, to show that no matter what he has done, it’s not too late for him to accept God in his life and ask for forgiveness.

Technically, Tim Robbins was able to create a film that does a great job of not following the banality of other similar films.  No, doubt was this film thought provoking but it was also well-written in the fact that there is no drama of the sister trying to become an investigator to exonerate Poncelet, nor does she fall for the prisoner and all the usual Hollywood cliche that exists for these type of films.  This is a straightforward film of a woman of faith who wants to help a criminal find faith in God before he is to be executed but also doing what she can to get him life imprisonment instead of execution.

But the debate upon the death penalty and whether or not it is right or wrong is what is being examined.  You can have a Christian family who are focused on values but when one of their own is killed, murdered or rape, many people want justice.  It’s a side of humanity that people want to see… Justice.    An eye-for-an-eye.

The same can be said with the recent killing of Osama Bin Laden and how we lost so many people, loved ones during 9/11.  Many Americans celebrated and cheered the death of Bin Laden because it was justice.  The same thing with executions when a murderer receives a lethal injection or the electric chair and many see their execution as justice.

Robbins’ film puts it out there, if you are Christian and are against murders, how can you condone execution when God asks you to forgive?

This is a topic that will continue to be debated amongst Christians and non-Christians and frankly, I doubt this debate will ever end anytime soon.

As for the performances, both Susan Sarandon especially Sean Penn, do a remarkable job playing their characters.  Sean Penn, who is a talented actor, is able to take on the persona of Michael Poncelet with efficacy, while Sarandon takes a more Christian, faith-driven persona that works.  Both talent do a wonderful job in this film.

As for the Blu-ray release, this is the best PQ version of the film to date.  While it does have a lossless 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack, this is a dialogue-driven film with very little ambiance being utilized in the surround channels.  And as for special features, you get the audio commentary and theatrical trailer.  So, if you owned the DVD version and really enjoyed this film, then its definitely worth the upgrade to Blu-ray.

Overall, if you are looking for a film that is thought-provoking, especially with a storyline that deals with the death penalty, then “Dead Man Walking” is definitely recommended.

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