Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB. United Kingdom/USA, 1995. Havoc, Polygram Filmed Entertainment, Working Title Films. Screenplay by Tim Robbins, based on the book by Helen Prejean. Cinematography by Roger Deakins. Produced by Jon Kilik, Tim Robbins, Rudd Simmons. Music by David Robbins. Production Design by Richard Hoover. Costume Design by Renee Ehrlich Kalfus. Film Editing by Lisa Zeno Churgin, Ray Hubley. Academy Awards 1995. Golden Globe Awards 1995. Independent Spirit Awards 1995.
Susan Sarandon is peerless in this powerful and fascinating adaptation of Sister Helen Prejean’s true-life novel, about her experiences as a nun counselling inmates on death row. Tim Robbins (showing exceptional power as a director) has written a script that combines Prejean’s two factual accounts into one fictional one involving Sean Penn as the first convict Prejean ever counselled, a man on death row for the rape and murder of two young teenagers. The entire cast is perfectly rounded, from Margo Martindale as Prejean’s friend, Robert Prosky as an earnest appeals lawyer, Roberta Maxwell as Penn’s brokenhearted mother, and R. Lee Ermey, Celia Weston, and Raymond J. Barry as the parents of the murder victims. The film is at heart a statement against the death penalty, but it doesn’t drive a message home: it examines every aspect of the situation and challenges on many levels (unlike similarly themed films such as Last Dance and The Chamber) that you’ll struggle to comfortably find what you feel is true for yourself. Lois Smith has two wonderful scenes as Prejean’s wise mother, and as usual she does a brilliant job. Beautiful filmmaking that gets better with each viewing.