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Dead Man Walking (1995)



Average Rating: 8.2/10
Reviews Counted: 55
Fresh: 51 | Rotten: 4

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.


Average Rating: 7.7/10
Critic Reviews: 20
Fresh: 17 | Rotten: 3

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.



liked it
Average Rating: 3.7/5
User Ratings: 60,599

My Rating

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


Mystery & Suspense, Drama

Sep 30, 1998

Gramercy Pictures

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All Critics (58) | Top Critics (21) | Fresh (51) | Rotten (4) | DVD (11)

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.

June 10, 2006 Full Review Source: Variety
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An intelligent, balanced, devastating movie.

January 31, 2002
Washington Post
Top Critic IconTop Critic

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

February 13, 2001 Full Review Source: Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

A thought-provoking drama not to be missed or dismissed.

January 1, 2000
Top Critic IconTop Critic

A daring stand and a daring, uncompromised film.

January 1, 2000
Top Critic IconTop 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 | Comments (2)
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Has the distinction of including not one, but two of the greatest screen performances of all time...undeniably one of the most gut-churning emotional experiences of 1990s cinema... [Blu-ray]

June 6, 2011 Full Review Source: Groucho Reviews
Groucho Reviews

To say that the movie is neither for nor against capital punishment is disingenuous. Still, this is a fine and painful effort overall.

July 29, 2007 Full Review Source:

Dead Man Walking is one courageous film, one of the very best of its time.

May 26, 2006 Full Review Source: Combustible Celluloid
Combustible Celluloid

The movie is neither indulgent in its portrayal of emotionally-charged subject matter, nor does it shy away from the consequences of murder.

January 15, 2005
Looking Closer

Penn proves once again that he should stop writing and directing and stick to what he does best.

December 5, 2004 Full Review Source:

Dead Man Walking was worth the river of tears I waded through on my way out.

May 14, 2003
Palo Alto Weekly

It takes a truly great film to be so passionate about its viewpoint while still acknowledging and dignifying those who feel differently.

March 28, 2003
Flipside Movie Emporium

The best film ever made about walking the green mile. The performances of Penn and Sarandon will move you.

February 10, 2003
Sunday Times (Australia)

An incredibly moving meditation on capital punishment that takes on the unenviable task of showing it from all sides, and then being smart enough to let the audience decide for themselves.

September 23, 2002

Dead Man Walking is one of these rare films that really makes you think and gives you things to discuss. But if it is indeed an important film, it's also well crafted and gripping.

September 10, 2002 Full Review Source: Montreal Film Journal
Montreal Film Journal

One of the most finely scripted, well acted films to come out of Hollywood. A modern masterpiece.

August 8, 2002
Juicy Cerebellum

Intense yet subtlely handled on every level, Dead Man Walking is one of the most remarkable and memorable films of 1995

June 5, 2002 Full Review Source: Boxoffice Magazine
Boxoffice Magazine

Crime and punishment are depicted in cruelly unflinching detail in Tim Robbins' deadly earnest, intermittently powerful death-row drama.

April 17, 2002 Full Review Source: Film Scouts

This important film exposes the cruelty of death by lethal injection and shows that hate is the worst prison of all.

February 22, 2002 Full Review Source: Spirituality and Practice
Spirituality and Practice

One of the deepest human films in a long time, one that doesn't back down from baring the human soul and exploring the vastness of its complexities.

February 27, 2001 Full Review Source: Q Network Film Desk
Q Network Film Desk

Dead Man Walking is a provocative, well-made film on a surprisingly intelligent level.

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source:

One of the best things a film can do is make us reflect on our convictions and beliefs. Dead Man Walking powerfully forces this reflection through its compellingly ambiguous subject matter and superb performances by Sarandon and Penn.

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: Austin Chronicle
Austin Chronicle

Audience Reviews for Dead Man Walking

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.
February 12, 2012

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.
November 5, 2011
Chris Weber

Super Reviewer

Like walking the last mile yourself, Tim Robbins' elegantly told tale of a convicted murderer's last days in the company of an interested stranger, a nun, deeply resonates whether you'd like it to or not. Deserved accolades for this one, and each one earned.
May 25, 2011

Super Reviewer

There are times when I feel that I must say that a movie is not just a movie, and that this movie is real. Dead Man Walking surprised me in every way and I did not find myself bored by it's running time and slow pace. This is the type of film where is could have the slowest scenes in cinema to date, but still have the effectiveness of greatness. This film has a gut-wrenching story, the performances are miraculous, and the outcome will have you rooting for every character. This is the story about a man in prison due to murder, while a nun is doing her best to protect him while she tries to comfort the lives of the families who he has taken lives from. This is as perplexed as a film can get these days, and it is beautiful. Dead Man Walking is far more than just a true-to-life film, but an emotional thrill ride that, in my eyes, is a triumphant masterpiece!
May 8, 2011
KJ Proulx

Super Reviewer

    1. Mathew Poncelet: I think killin' is wrong, no matter who does it. whether it's me, or y'all, or your government.
    – Submitted by Ahmed I (13 months ago)
    1. Mathew Poncelet: I never had no real love myself. I never loved a woman or anybody else or myself, just never could. Might figure I'd have to die to find love. Thank you for loving me.
    – Submitted by Chad E (2 years ago)
View all quotes (2)

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Foreign Titles

  • Dead Man Walking - Sein letzter Gang (DE)
  • La dernière marche (FR)
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