Parents' Guide to

Dead Man Walking

By Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 17+

Intense '90s death-penalty drama has cursing, violence.

Movie R 1996 122 minutes
Dead Man Walking Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Community Reviews

age 14+

Based on 1 parent review

age 14+

complicated

I really appreciate this movie. I use it when I teach HS sophomores about moral decision making, values, virtues, forgiveness, and reconciliation. It's clearly so complicated; the violence is brutal and I do warn them about that, but we watch it together over two or three class periods and unpack the harder parts at the end of each class. Sean Penn's portrayal of the (composite character) Matthew Poncelet is brilliant - my students come to have empathy for him by the end of the film, though they can see that what he did was abhorrent. Throwing the death penalty question in makes the movie even richer for a classroom conversation; the discussion on restorative v punitive justice is very valuable.

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say (1 ):
Kids say (1 ):

Dead Man Walking is a beautifully-made film. Director Tim Robbins, who co-wrote the script with Prejean, sets the ugliness of his death row convict and that man's violent actions against a moving Pakistani Sufi devotional chanting-influenced score by David Robbins. Sarandon gives an exceptional performance as a servant of God in conflict as she shows a man who is seemingly beyond redemption some form of love despite his actions and views. Her emotional equilibrium is tested by her equally empathetic response to the parents of the teenagers killed by Poncelet and his friend, and her interactions with those bereft victims make for some of the movie's most riveting scenes.

There is a good deal of talk about Jesus Christ and his forgiveness and willingness to undergo crucifixion in order to help all mortals be absolved of their sins, as per Catholic doctrine. Given the seemingly irredeemable evil of Poncelet, the movie goes too far when it exploits the visual similarity of Poncelet strapped to the execution gurney with arms spread out to the posture of the Christ figure stretched out on the cross. It feels obvious, unimaginative, and in uncharacteristically poor taste given the quality of the rest of the film.

Movie Details

  • In theaters: February 2, 1996
  • On DVD or streaming: October 7, 1997
  • Cast: Susan Sarandon , Sean Penn , Robert Prosky
  • Director: Tim Robbins
  • Inclusion Information: Female actors, Bisexual actors
  • Studio: Polygram Video
  • Genre: Drama
  • Run time: 122 minutes
  • MPAA rating: R
  • MPAA explanation: for a depiction of a rape and murder
  • Last updated: August 2, 2023

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