Many of you will have seen this one, something of a blockbuster by our standards, but a very important film nonetheless. It tells the story of Matthew Poncelet, a composite character of real death row inmates known to the author of the original book Sister Helen Prejean, as he faces execution for his involvement in a hideous double murder and rape.
The drama centres almost entirely on the relationship between Poncelet and Sister Helen as she struggles to help him face up to his crime and die with as much dignity as a degrading and inhumane system will allow. Poncelet is far from a sympathetic character showing overt white-supremicist racism, whinging self-pity and cunning manipulation. Nevertheless the film exposes the brutal nature and political grandstanding that lies behind the state-sponsored murder that is an execution; nor does it shrink from showing the hurt felt by a victim's family and the psychological pain they can and do suffer.
Fantastic performances by Susan Sarandon as Sister Helen and Sean Penn as Poncelet are excellently supported by understated acting from the rest of the cast. Tim Robbins shows a firm grasp of how to manipulate an audience's emotions and allows his actors room to develop their roles to achieve masterfully rounded characters in whom one can believe absolutely.
A difficult film to watch, the film club crew were almost completely silent throughout (an unusual occurrence) as the action unfolded and one or two tear ducts let flow.
If you've not seen it - do so. No matter which side of the argument you're on regarding the effectiveness of capital punishment (and, needless to say, I'm very anti) this film should be compulsory viewing.