Dead Man Walking

Dead Man Walking ★★★½

For some reason over the years I had built up the notion in my head that Dead Man Walking was a case of angelic heroism tested by the curve ball cunning of unraveled craven evil, something in the same ballpark as The Silence of the Lambs or Primal Fear albeit with a more righteous protagonist attached in the form of a nun, but rather it serves as a persuasive examination and emotional engagement with the troublesome process of capital punishment.

Most memorable is the uniquely explored perspective of the modernist nun as channeled through Sarandon's utterly compelling performance. She plays a woman inexperienced with the emotional toll of death row and its various associated parties, from crime's hand to victim to punishment, not to mention the blood curdling cries of the outside mob, and the baton of senselessness passed therein until grief is circularly culminated in a final cleansing, vanquishing but disturbing act. Treading a minefield, she serves as audience vessel absorbing and engaging with a complexly charged issue. She navigates the strong emotions, personal powerplays and pragmatisms of duty with her illustrative eyes time and again digesting barrages of layered interplay before wisely choosing her words and actions so as not to escalate conflict, whether the situation calls for the cerebral, the emotional and/or the spiritual. To be a nun in such a guiding angel role leaves one open to all manner of attack, and Sarandon brilliantly conveys to the audience both the secular and spiritual struggle of accompanying each of the rippled participants in their own conflicted and often unfulfilled struggle. This is one of the most powerful soundboard performances in recent American cinema, finally convincing me of the stature and value of Sarandon’s acting legacy.

Dead Man Walking is a film in habitual clothes that nevertheless allows you to pause and reflect through a mastery of subtlety. It works as an ultimately moving philosophical treatise, and features two beautiful performances. Several moments in this film have stayed with me, but none more so than the quote regarding the cold, calculated murder of modern capital punishment. A revealing discussion of cathartic refrain between two gods; the spiritualism of the soul and the expectations of the social contract.