Dead Man Out

Director: Richard Pearce
Screenwriters: Ron Hutchinson, J.D. Maria

Institute History

  • 1989 Sundance Film Festival


Dead Man Out is a complex psychological prison drama, a struggle of will and morality between Alex, a prison psychiatrist (Danny Glover), and Ben, a death-row inmate (Ruben Blades). Five years on death row in a harsh prison environment have driven Ben insane. He is a beaten-up shell, animal-like in his reactions, opaque to human emotion, and, apparently, too incompetent to be executed. Alex’s job is to determine whether Ben is sane enough to be killed.

Ben initially responds to their sessions with violence, but gradually a relationship develops. He begins to want contact with Alex, and, for the first time, is able to talk about his life and his crime—all signs to Alex that he is indeed, regaining his sanity. But Alex finally realizes that to diagnose Ben as sane is, in effect, to sign his death warrant. At that point, both men have options to consider and actions to take, each startling and far reaching in its implications.

Dead Man Out opens up vistas of moral discussion, and plunges us into the gray areas of sanity, responsibility and free will. Both Glover and Blades give compelling, convincing performances: Glover as a pained, self-reflective shrink, the moral implications of h is work just beginning to dawn on him; Blades as the angry punk con with one last gasp of ironic, rational will still left in him. Richard Pearce is the director of Heartland, Country, and No Mercy. His work here in the prison labyrinth is strong and assured. Dead Man Out will be seen on HBO later this year.

Screening Details

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