Dead Man Walking (1995) - Rotten Tomatoes

Dead Man Walking (1995)



Critic Consensus: A powerful, thought-provoking film that covers different angles of its topic without resorting to preaching, Dead Man Walking will cause the viewer to reflect regardless of their political viewpoint.

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Movie Info

Tim Robbins' second directorial effort (after the political satire Bob Roberts) was this drama based on a true story, which explores the issue of capital punishment. Sister Helen Prejean (Susan Sarandon) is a nun and teacher living in rural Louisiana. One day, she receives a letter from Matthew Poncelet (Sean Penn), who is scheduled to be executed soon for the rape and murder of two teenagers. After meeting Matthew, Sister Helen agrees to serve as spiritual counselor and see what she can do to stay the execution. However, Matthew's claims of innocence seem shaky at best, and it's clear he's a reprehensible, amoral racist. When it becomes obvious that Matthew's sentence will be carried out, Sister Helen offers what comfort she can to Matthew, but also tries to guide him to an open admission of the extent of his crimes and an acceptance of divine forgiveness, telling him "I want the last face you see to be the face of love." Susan Sarandon won an Oscar for her performance as Sister Prejean, and Sean Penn was similarly nominated for Best Actor as Matthew. ~ Mark Deming, Rovimore
Rating: R (adult situations/language, violence)
Genre: Mystery & Suspense, Drama
Directed By:
Written By: Tim Robbins
In Theaters:
On DVD: Sep 30, 1998
Gramercy Pictures


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
Ray Aranha
as Luis Montoya
Larry Pine
as Guy Gilardi
Gil Robbins
as Bishop Norwich
Kevin Cooney
as Governor Benedict
Clancy Brown
as State Trooper
Michael Cullen
as Carl Vitello
Peter Sarsgaard
as Walter Delacroix
Missy Yager
as Hope Percy
Jenny Krochmal
as Emily Percy
Jack Black
as Craig Poncelet
Jon Abrahams
as Sonny Poncelet
Arthur Bridgers
as Troy Poncelet
Steve Carlisle
as Helen's Brother
Helen Hester
as Helen's Sister
Eva Amurri
as Nine-year-old Helen
Jack Henry Robbins
as Opossum Kid No. 1
Gary 'Buddy' Boe
as Opossum Kid No. 2
Amy Long
as Opossum Kid No. 3
Pamela Garmon
as Mirabeau
Adrian Colon
as Reporter
John D. Wilmot
as Supporter
Margaret Lane
as Reporter No. 1
Sally Ann Roberts
as Reporter No. 2
Alec Gifford
as Reporter No. 3
John Hurlbutt
as Reporter No. 4
Mike Longman
as News Anchor
Pete Burris
as Parent No. 1
Joan Glover
as Parent No. 2
Florrie Hathorn
as Parent No. 3
Lenore Banks
as Parent No. 4
Walter Breaux Jr.
as Guard No. 1
Scott Sowers
as Guard No. 2
Adam Nelson
as Guard No. 4
Dalvin Ford
as Guard No. 5
Derek Steeley
as Guard No. 6
Jeremy Knaster
as Guard No. 7
Mary Robbins
as Aide to Governor Ben...
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News & Interviews for Dead Man Walking

Critic Reviews for Dead Man Walking

All Critics (58) | Top Critics (20)

Tim Robbins's balanced yet uncompromising approach refuses to judge any of the characters, including the killer (superlatively played by Sean Penn), instead giving each a fair chance to present their case with dignity and respect.

Full Review… | June 10, 2006
Top Critic

An intelligent, balanced, devastating movie.

January 31, 2002
Washington Post
Top Critic

Takes us along on the reluctant, difficult, essentially spiritual journey these two unlikely people make together.

Full Review… | February 13, 2001
Los Angeles Times
Top Critic

Sarandon, who won the Oscar for Best Actress for this role, is superb, but Penn is extraordinary.

January 1, 2000
Top Critic

The picture is cloudy in intent.

January 1, 2000
The New Republic
Top Critic

Robbins, who also wrote the script, is no Truman Capote, let alone a Victor Hugo, and his film trips up constantly on indecisiveness about what it is he's trying to say.

January 1, 2000
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Dead Man Walking

A daring, objective and thought-provoking drama that inspires us to reflect on such medieval practice and discuss it for hours straight, even if it also respects those who are in favor, and it has two magnificent and greatly nuanced performances by Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon.

Carlos Magalh„es

Super Reviewer


A soapy, longwinded drama that simply is not the moving film that warrants the praise it received. Directed by cold cocking activist Tim Robbins, his longtime partner Susan Sarandon playing the lead of Helen Prejean, and also starring Sean Penn as a fearless convict, this film bleeds for the cause of human life. This film, though moving at times, is so slanted and nauseating that the performances come off as forced and irrationally concise. It's not that the performances were bad. To the contrary, for what the movie was and for what it was obviously trying to convey, the performances were sappy enough to work. Though the film is formulaic and borderline obvious at best, it was based on the book by Sister Helen Prejean who visited and held religious counsel for Matthew Poncelet, who had murdered two people with an accomplice in cold blood. I can't fault the film for taking such sensitive subject matter and making a complex dynamic between Helen's guilt at giving Matthew religious salvation when his crimes were so abhorrent, and having the family shun her for it. Sarandon's performance is far more human than expected, as she herself is not the perfect saint or unconventional nun with an authoritative air, who always appears in these kinds of human interest films. Penn got on my nerves a bit, only because he tries to play up the convict's vulnerability to the umpth degree, and though the film is trying to show that the death penalty is wrong, and everyone is allowed their salvation, it was so schmaltzy and fake that it was only the ending that saved this film. The profile of the convict, the interviews with the families by Sister Prejean, and the feeling of the film made it a bit of a blight for emotional heart pulling films. Though it was a disappointing film for me personally, it was great to see Sarandon in such a human role.

Spencer S.

Super Reviewer

In his second turn as a director, Tim Robbins, along with longtime partner Susan Sarandon, a bunch cof his extended family, and tons of other notable names all got together to create this: a film adaptation based on a work by Sister Helen Prejean, a nun who has spent time counseling deathrow inmates. The film soimplifies the story and focuses on Helen as she coems to know and try to help Matthew Poncelet a composite of 2-3 real life figues. Matthew (in the film) is on death row for kidnapping, then brutally raping and murdering a boy and girl out near some lover's lane somewhere along with a friend of his.

The film follows Sister Helen as she tries to help Matthew get an appeal or a lesser sentence, feeling that, though he may be guilty, he isn't deserving of the death penalty. Yes, the film does ultimately have a bias concerning capital punishment, but it also presents mutltiple and well developed viewpoints of the issue, and makes a good case for both. It does have it's bias, but it is also more subtle than I expected it to be. I figured it would be very blunt and bludgeon the audience of the head with it's message a la The Life of David Gale (which now that I think about it may not be quiote as good as I originally thought).

Given the well know npolitical views and activism of Penn, Robbins, and Sarandon, I was surprised with how the film ultimately treated the issues at hand, and am very thankful for how itr all ended up. Yes, it gets a bit heavy handed here and there, but it's hard to fault it too much since it's all done so well. The film doesn't make Matthew totally symapthetic, but it does humanize him, and the concluding scenes are very moving.

I had a personal moment of joy when I realized that the song playing during the big climax as Matthew is being led to the execution room was a version of a song I sang with my choir back in high schhol. I believe it's a Swedish funeral march, but I can't remember.

Okay, that little diversion aside, this is a very moving, thought provoking, and sensible cinematic treatment of a touchy subject. It isn't completely cliche free, but it is far more fresh than I was figuring it might be, and the performances are just wonderful. Sarandon won an Oscar, and Penn was nominated, and both are incredible. They bring a lot of depth to their roles, and play them very realistically. To support them are people such as R. Lee Ermey, Robert Prosky, Raymond J. Barry, and even Jack Black. All of them and the rest do a fine job fleshing out their various characters and giving life to people who, for various reasons, have strong opinions on capital punishment, and it's hard to really take sides because they all make you feel for them.

I'm torn on the rating, so let's be kind and give it somewhere between a 4 and 4 1/2. This is a very stirring and emotional drama that raises good questions, answers some, but leaves it up to the viewer to really decide what it should be. Given the material, that's all I could ask for, because this is an issue where it's best to leave it open (ultimately) because it's such a slippery slope. You should give this a watch.

Chris Weber

Super Reviewer

Dead Man Walking Quotes

– Submitted by Ryan K (18 months ago)
– Submitted by Ryan K (18 months ago)
– Submitted by Ahmed I (2 years ago)
– Submitted by Chad E (3 years ago)

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