[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----ILL./TEX.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Fri May 9 08:48:52 CDT 2008
'At the Death House Door'--3 stars
Presbyterian minister Carroll Pickett served for 15 years as chaplain at
the infamous "Walls" prison in Huntsville, Texas, a state that has sent
more than 400 convicts to their deaths by lethal injection, a number
unsurpassed in the U.S. Before he retired in 1995, Pickett led an
accomplished prison gospel choir and bore witness to 95 executions. "At
the Death House Door" is a sobering account of Pickett's gradual evolution
from pro-death penalty minister to a man struggling to reconcile his
complicated role in those deaths.
Directed by Peter Gilbert and Steve James, whose credits include 1995's
highly acclaimed "Hoop Dreams," "At the Death House Door" unfolds in a
measured way, its focus less on politics and polemics than on Pickett's
personal journey. When Pickett took the job at the prison, to the chagrin
of his wife and family, he was still haunted by the murders of 2 women in
his congregation who worked at Huntsville and had been taken hostage in a
1974 jailhouse riot. As chaplain, it was Pickett's job to counsel and calm
the inmates as they waited for execution in the "death house." The purpose
was both humanitarian and practical: The prison warden did not want the
condemned men putting up a fight as they were strapped to the gurney. The
laconic Pickett never cried or revealed his feelings to his family about
his role in the executions. Instead, he recounted his observations into a
tape recorder. His 2nd wife, in one of the many understated, eloquent
moments in the film, calls the boxes of neatly cataloged cassette tapes
her husband's tears.
The film has 2 narratives: Pickett's spiritual journey to anti-death
penalty activist and the efforts of Chicago Tribune reporters Maurice
Possley and Steve Mills to uncover compelling evidence that Carlos De
Luna, executed at Huntsville in 1989, was innocent. (The film is produced
by Kartemquin Films in association with the Chicago Tribune, which
provided partial funding.) Pickett thought so too; the confluence of his
crisis of conscience with old-fashioned, investigative journalism allows
the film to examine questions about justice and morality without seeming
didactic. The film often eschews the more traditional story linethe
efforts of the reporters and De Luna's sister to clear his name and expose
the injusticein favor of Pickett's compelling conversion. But in the end
the 2 narratives complement one another to deliver a low-key but no less
impassioned portrait of a quest for truth.
Running time:1:38. Plays Sat.-Wed. at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N.
State St. Directors Steve James and Peter Gilbert will be present at the 8
p.m. Saturday premiere.
The documentary premieres on cable's IFC May 29. For more information,
visit siskelfilmcenter.com and kartemquin.com.
No MPAA rating; parents cautioned for graphic archival images and
descriptions of executions.
(source: Chicago Tribune)
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