Death penalty is one of the most controversial issues there are. To make a movie fair to both ways of thought, without taking any side and letting the audience make its own mind is an achievement by itself. Writer-director Tim Robbins’ powerful film makes you care about its death row protagonist and the nun who wants to help him die with dignity, yet it never make you forget that the man is a rapist and a killer and that he kind of brought all this on himself. Personally, I’m ambiguous about death penalty. In a way, I feel that murderers don’t deserve to live but on the other hand, as the film shows, even the worst criminal is still a human being and killing him might not be the right solution. 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.

Susan Sarandon stars as a Cajun nun who devotes her life to helping others. She spends time with the poor, listens and prays with the desperate and teach the young. What she’s about to do will be the most difficult and emotional task of her life : help a lost soul to find redemption. Sean Penn plays a convicted rapist and murderer on death row who will be killed by lethal injection in a week. He requests Sarandon to accompany him spiritually right until the last moment. The film is about how Sarandon tries to make Penn accepts the truth about what he’s done and redeem himself. This is mostly an intimate film revolving around the odd relation between the nun and the criminal, but there’s also something about the backlash that Sarandon faces, as the families of the victims throw their angst at her for spending time with the man who ruined their lives.

Robbins handles all of this magnificently. His film is near-flawlessly crafted and truly moving without ever turning into a melodrama. And more than anything, the film features two of the most remarkable performances in recent memory. Susan Sarandon well deserved her Oscar for her turn as an intensely devoted woman who goes almost against common sense and chooses to try to understand a man labeled as a monster. She’s very touching and believable, and her acting is always wonderfully right and human. But for my money, it’s Sean Penn’s disorienting portrayal of the death row inmate that got me the most. Penn is undeniably one of the most gifted actors of his generation, and he outdoes himself here. At first, you see him as this arrogant badass with attitude problems who doesn’t even seem to care about the terrible things he done and the punishment that awaits him. But as the film goes, Penn’ shell gradually peels of until you can see how terrified and remorseful he truly is. Penn is so intensely destroyed by the film’s end that he makes me cries every time I see the film. It’s not that I forgive him for what he did: it’s just essentially gut-wrenching to watch a man being robbed of his life, no matter if he deserved it or not. “Dead Man Walking” is a unique film to be seen absolutely.