A film like this probably wouldn't see the inside of a cinema today. It would be relegated to a streaming platform, or a select festival-run. It seems a shame, since despite a few instances of heavy-handedness, Robbins's film reflects the lost art of sensitive cinema; preoccupied as it is with personal interactions, quiet introspection & moments where the looks & physical exchanges between characters say everything.
When I read the synopsis briefly, DEAD MAN WALKING kinda reminds me of some cheap TV movie drama out there. I can assure you, the plot of this movie isn't cheap at all. DEAD MAN WALKING has a complexity in its storytelling. It didn't simply put you in a black or white area. It's hard for you to decide who is the good guy or the bad guy. DEAD MAN WALKING is also great because it has such a compelling main characters..
A movie that is surprisingly unpretentious and non judgemental on its take about a very delicate matter, that still fractures societies around the world. Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn have very strong roles and even if all hope is lost almost right from the start, there's still a long path to be done in search for the truth and redemption. Long after it ends, the message still resonates with you.
It takes one of the most complex issues of our time (along with Tony Kaye's "Lake of Fire") and treats it with the respect it deserves. It's not a film "of style", who cares? It's a film of people. And to watch Sean Penn do what he does (without being able to use his hands, arms, body, he's shackled most of the movie) is remarkable. It offers no answers, for there are none. Everyone is right & everyone is wrong.
Event though it's very TV movie-ish in its visual aesthetic, Dead Man Walking -- bolstered by an affecting story and two great performances -- never fails to make me cry. And that's saying something because I'm a frigid, emotionally-stunted bitch. The last half hour is well-nigh transcendent.