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For our GCSE Coursework we have been watching two films, "Dead Man
Walking" and "Let Him Have It". They were both based on true stories.
'Dead Man Walking' was about a man called Matthew Poncelet who
supposedly raped and killed a girl. After six years had gone by, he
was given the death penalty by lethal injection. 'Let Him Have It' was
about a young man, Derek Bentley, who has mental disabilities and
suffers from epilepsy. After spending years at home, he goes out and
gets dragged into the antics of a sixteen year old Christopher Craig.
After the murder of a police officer, Derek gets to death by hanging.
I feel that both Matthew Poncelet and Derek Bentley are in the same,
sad situation. Matthew has committed a murder and is given the death
penalty, where as Derek, although did receive the death penalty, his
case was different because it seemed that all of his life was bad luck
due to his mental disabilities.
At the start of the film, Poncelet acted as if he shouldn't be messed
with in prison using a tough voice. During the film, Sister Prejean
was trying to help Poncelet hoping that if he pleads for forgiveness,
then he might be released from Death Row. During this time, you could
tell and see the different types of emotions that Poncelet had inside
him. When he was sitting with Sister Prejean you could see his soft
side, caring and thoughtful. But when he was by himself you saw the
side of him that was, a monster, no shame, nor remorse and
The music used in this film is harsh, no -western music and
discordant, it also clashes making the audience feel uncomfortable.
The most effective times this style of music was used was in the
occasional scene of Sister Prejean thinking by herself about what she
should prey for, this symbolizes how uncomfortable she is.
I think that the actor who played the part of Poncelet (Sean Penn) was
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who is living on Death Row. He has waxed hair that looks as if it has
been stuck on with glue, tattoos either arm or his never ending pack
of cigarettes, in almost every scene you see him smoking. He uses
facial expressions well like when Sister Prejean passed out and was
taken to the medical room and no-one stayed with Matthew, as she
returned, Poncelet exploded in anger, really letting Sister Prejean
know how he felt. Sean Penn acted in such a way that you wouldn't mind
betting that he is actually Poncelet in the flesh. I also noticed that
whenever he wore his boots, he felt powerful and superior to every one
else. At the time of Poncelet's execution, he had his boots taken way
from him, given slippers to wear giving a sense of him now being
powerless and defeatable.
Editing techniques such as the flashbacks were probably the most
effective in the film, as
Sister Prejean sat beside Poncelet at the table; short clips of the
murder scene were flashed back on the screen, it was used to show what
Sister Prejean's guess on how the murder may have happened. The sounds
of gunshots and the screams of the raped girl echoed through her head.
There was a lot of panning around during the film, I think the best
time this was used was at the end of the film, when Poncelet was lying
on the death chair receiving the lethal injections and you were able
to see the facial expressions of both Poncelet and the people looking
on as the camera changed angle. You could see Sister Prejean crying
and Mr Percy with a firm determined look upon his face. Right up until
the point Poncelet actually freezes. The camera pans back and forth,
capturing the expressions as well as emotional stress on everyone
else's faces. At the end of the film where Poncelet had actually died
now, the final cut shows the camera pulling a close-up of his face and
super-imposed images of the two victims either side of it, fading in
and out in a mysterious ghostly manner. I think that particular scene
was edited with the super imposition to show the victims waiting for
Poncelet to join them in the after life when he dies.
In the film "Let Him Have It" the opening sequence consists of a
camera pan around the set to show the situation and movement, panic
action and sound effects. After the bricks had been removed from the
wreckage, there was a medium shot if the family and a close up of
Derek's dad, using a high angle shot looking down at Derek.
I think there were two sides to Derek's life, the first being with his
family, his normal self, calm, careful and has feelings but nervous.
We only see the other side of Derek when he is with Christopher Craig,
which is a careless individual with no feelings.
The first shot we saw of Christopher Craig in the film, was after
Derek and his Sister Iris walked up their road and the camera stopped
and focused on a man in black, Christopher Craig. During this shot
there was a bell sound in the background which interlinks with the end
of the film where the clock is ticking away Dereks last few moments of
life as if to say, "it's your time now Derek" the bell being the
reference of time. He then appears pointing a gun in another scene;
this gives us a first impression of him being a "gangster". Chris
Craig was the key focus in the classroom scene with him acting as the
leader and ultimately showing his obsession with guns.
The first time the filmmaker shows us that Derek has very low mental
abilities was when the owner of the shed caught him and his friends
(not Chris Craig) breaking in. As he shouted loudly at him and shone a
flashlight into his eyes, he began to have an epileptic fit. He was
sent, because of this, to an approved school for boys in which a gang
of other boys surrounded him (the "Chris Craig Gang"). Not long after,
he was ordered to leave the school because the teachers classed him as
"easy prey" and too vulnerable. We, the audience, were then certain
that Derek was not the same as everyone else.
Derek at this time was forced to join the army but had to under go an
examination before hand, in this scene, the camera pans around from
his feet to his head showing what he is connected to, the camera
continues to pan round the room way from Derek, to the other equipment
that is being used for his examination. As Derek was having an
epileptic fit, flashbacks to the recording sheet were used to show how
serious the fit was.
At the next scene in the house, close up shots of Derek are used to
establish his loneliness, the music in the background played to show
his happiness. Both Derek Bentley and Matthew Poncelet in the two
films have a good side and a bad side, the good side being thoughtful,
caring and honest, the bad side being disrespectful, not caring and
dishonest. Although with that said, Poncelet knew what he had done and
accepted it in the end, where as Derek, because of his mental
disabilities, didn't know exactly what he was doing apart from trying
to act like Christopher Craig.
Christopher Craig persuaded Derek to go out, Derek is up above in the
security of his house with a backlight of ward golden colours, where
as Chris Craig is shot, looking down at him with a streetlight shining
on him, showing a sign of evilness. But when Craig's brother was sent
to prison, the person who he looked up to most, he changes from the
popular kid with not a care in the world, to a child again. The use of
close ups in Chris's room after Dereks was told to "go away" show
this, as we see Craig lying down on his bed the camera sees him
placing a gun onto his bed side table, next to it, some toy cars.
Indicating there is still a child side to Chris Craig, bearing in mind
he is still 16, he tried to act like an adult but couldn't face up to
reality after his brother was taken away.
Sister Prejean is a very loving and helpful woman because she put
everything on the line just to help a defenceless human being like
Poncelet be freed from Death Row. On the whole, Sister Prejean is a
very simple, plain woman. Her clothing is very ordinary and original.
I also noticed that she did not wear any make-up. She was always
honest to herself and everyone she knew. What I found difficult to
understand was that Sister Prejean went to every family who was
involved with the case and assured them that she was on their side. I
think she was probably saying that to put everyone at ease. So they
wouldn't worry about the situation.
Derek Bentley had a family of loving, caring people. His dad, I think
was the strictest of the lot, although he never wanted to upset Derek,
he just wanted to make sure he would not hang around with Chris Craig.
The caring from the family for Derek is shown when Chris Craig is
waiting outside his house, Dereks parents tell him to go away and to
leave him alone. However, as Chris Craig starts to walk away, the
camera slowly zooms in on the parents, up until the point of Chris no
longer in the picture, leaving a sense of solidarity within the
Iris, Derek's sister, is probably the most confident of the family
because whenever she sees Derek in a sad or unhappy mood she says to
him, "don't worry" meaning that everything is going to be alright. She
frequently says this during the movie to put Derek at ease. Dennis,
Derek's brother, didn't have a major part in the film really. The
Bentley family and the Poncelet family are very different financially.
Poncelet's family are the poorer of the two although, Bentley's family
are not that well off, they have enough to get by. In addition to
this, Derek had a far better background than Matthews.
Matthew and Derek had their own accomplice to stay with, in Matthew
there was a guy called Vitello who we never really saw or heard that
much about apart from flashbacks of the murder sequence, it was filmed
in semi-darkness and came across as brutally violent showing Vitello
as well as Matthew as cold blooded, darkening appearance and made an
Each case had its own way of carrying the death sentence. The most
effective was Matthews because flashbacks of the murder sequence were
used after each injection was given. The click of the machine which
gives the injection is echoed by the gunshots in the flashbacks. These
use of sounds help to give the end of the film a sense of balance and
justice, it is as if Matthew is been paid back for what he did.
After viewing both the films in full, I think that Capital Punishment
should only be carried out in the most extreme cases like a bomb
attack or continuous murder cases. There was definitely a message that
came through to me 'DONT NOT get mixed up with any kind of gang
because BAD will always come from it'.
Capital Punishment was presented in "Let Him Have It" more biased than
how "Dead Man Walking" presented it
The films were a joy to watch, they were interesting and informative,
and I recommend that everyone watches them to understand what really
goes on when someone is sentenced to death.