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Capital punishment has been a very controversial issue for many years. It is illegal in many countries but in 2001, 66 people were put to death in the States and right now there are 167 prisoners on death row. In the film Dead Man Walking.

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Introduction

Capital punishment has been a very controversial issue for many years. It is illegal in many countries but in 2001, 66 people were put to death in the States and right now there are 167 prisoners on death row. In the film Dead Man Walking, it follows the incidents surrounding convicted murderer and rapist Matthew Poncelet. He has been on death row in Louisiana for six years and is soon to be executed after many appeals to the state and federal courts. Dead Man Walking deals with many issues surrounding capital punishment, and manages to present them in a fair and unbiased way. Whether you already have a view on capital punishment or not, this film will still challenge your perception of the issue. In the beginning, the first thing strikes us about the film is the music. As the titles appear on the screen, very spiritual, exotic music plays in the background. This is a bit of a strange choice, as the film is set in America, and normally this type of film would involve very orchestral, classical music (think Steven Spielberg type heart-rending epic scores.) This choice of music doesn't make the film overtly sentimental, and more 'down to earth.' If the director were to have chosen very classical music, it would undermine the film's credibility and the seriousness of the matter. ...read more.

Middle

Here, the chaplain and Prejean ponder over various Bible quotes and tries to out do one another in Bible-quoting one another, and generally fills the audience in on most the arguments for and against capital punishment. The chaplain is almost reminiscent of a Police Chief Inspector from some Beverley Hills Cop movie, and Prejean the 'rebel trailblazer' who 'doesn't play by the rules.' The audience is held in suspense upon the arrival of this much fabled about man. And then he arrives. A short, little man with too much hair and a southern accent. His appearance almost comes across as comical at first, making the audience empathise with him. The choice of actors portraying Poncelet is very interesting, as Penn manages to hold an air of hostility and yet still be compassionate. If, for example Tom Hanks had played Poncelet, the audience would have had nothing but sympathy for the poor man. But as Penn is quite notorious and already has a reputation as a bit of a 'wild man' manages to sustain his aloofness yet at the same time have empathy with the audience. As the story progresses, we see the actual crime unfold slowly. The parents of the victims tell their stories very bitterly and passionately to an always-listening Prejean. ...read more.

Conclusion

The execution scene was slightly extravagant, with Prejean sobbing at Poncelet's arm and the placement of his body in a crucifix shape. The latter part was so brazen and ever tacky that it almost seemed as if Robbins was trying to make an ironic statement against the glorifying of 'innocent' victims. As the injections went in very ethereal, choral music came over and you saw Prejean mouth the words "I Love You" to Poncelet (the money shot! Cue floods of tears and sobbing women etc.) Flashbacks of the actual crime are juxtaposed against Poncelet's death, and only this was very cleverly done, as the camera was panning around the scene of crime. This meant that anything overtly gory was tactfully 'hidden' by a tree, not glamorising the brutality and nature of the crimes. On the whole, I felt that this film managed to portray the death penalty in a fair and unbiased way. It didn't trivialise or glamorise the subject, not being overtly sentimental or gory. Dead Man Walking won't completely change your perception of the world, but in its subtleness and gentle handling of the subject does it manage to convey across a message which the audience can interpret themselves. However, this can be viewed as a bit of a cop-out, as the director seems to be undecided upon what stands he is coming from, and it constantly changing stances on the matter. Dead Man Walking ...read more.

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