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  • A Lesson Before Dying [VHS]
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A Lesson Before Dying [VHS]


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Product Details

  • Actors: Don Cheadle, Cicely Tyson, Mekhi Phifer, Irma P. Hall, Brent Jennings
  • Directors: Joseph Sargent
  • Writers: Ann Peacock, Ernest J. Gaines
  • Producers: Celia D. Costas, Daniel Bernstein, Ellen Krass, Joel Stillerman, Robert Benedetti
  • Format: Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, NTSC
  • Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
  • Number of tapes: 1
  • Studio: Hbo Home Video
  • VHS Release Date: January 11, 2000
  • Run Time: 105 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00000JSJV
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #314,753 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com

On a bright sunny day in 1948, Jefferson (Mekhi Phifer) sets off down the road to go catch some fish; by the end of the movie's opening sequence, he is the one who's been caught, and wrongly accused of the murder of a white shopkeeper. Racial inequality, at the time, is so pervasive in Louisiana that the white defense lawyer's argument at Jefferson's trial is that his client is not worthy of conviction: "You might just as soon put a hog in the 'lectric chair as this," he declares. Outraged by this statement, Jefferson's godmother (Irma P. Hall) does not want her godson to die as a hog. To this end she enlists the reluctant aid of the black community's teacher, Grant Wiggins (Don Cheadle), to teach him to "be a man." As Grant and Jefferson get to know each other (and the viewer gets to know them both), it's not clear which of them needs the lesson more. As in Ernest J. Gaines's award-winning novel, the movie goes beyond the conflict between the races to explore divisions that splinter the black community: education versus religion, dark skin versus light. And, thanks to masterful performances from Cheadle and Phifer as well as a thoughtful screenplay by Amy Peacock, A Lesson Before Dying goes even further, examining what it means to be human and the responsibility a man has to himself and to his community. Originally made for HBO, this adaptation of Gaines's novel richly deserves to be seen by a wider audience. --Larisa Lomacky Moore

Customer Reviews

This is an excellent addition to reading the book.
J. Poehner
This film has it all, from injustice in Court to Protestant and Catholic prejudices resolved with a polite conversation.
Stephen M. Keohane
This movie is very well done, superbly crafted, and the storytelling is excellent.
TREND700

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Lawrance Bernabo HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on September 27, 2005
Format: DVD
In Louisiana in 1948 a young black man named Jefferson (Mekhi Phifer) makes the fatal mistake of accepting a ride from another pair of young men. When they stop at a local store to get some beer the other men do not have enough money and the white storeowner will not give them credit. Guns are drawn and everybody ends up dead but Jefferson, who is arrested for the crime. Since this is a question of black and white justice in the South before the Civil Rights Movement, Jefferson is condemned to be executed. The fact that he is innocent of the actual killings is not important to this 1999 HBO movie adapted from the novel by Ernest J. Gaines ("The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman"). Nobody is going to save Jefferson from his fate. The focus here is not on justice, but rather on death with dignity.

The key moment is not what happened in the store but rather what is said during the trial, when Jefferson's defense attorney, a white lawyer, seeks to save his client's life by saying that Jefferson is like a hog. That is to say, as a Negro Jefferson is no more intelligent than a hog and not capable of understanding what he is doing, therefore he should not be convicted. The jury, no doubt well acquainted with the practice of barbeque, has no more qualms about having Jefferson executed than they would of slaughtering a hog for a feast. But Jefferson's mother, Miss Emma (Irma P. Hall), and his aunt Tante Lou (Cicely Tyson), are outraged that the boy has been called a hog. So they badger local schoolteacher Grant Wiggins (Don Cheadle), the only educated black man in town, to visit Jefferson in jail and convince him that he is a man and not a hog.

Now, this is certainly an interesting idea.
Read more ›
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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful By J. E. George on May 12, 2002
Format: DVD
I missed the first few minutes of this film, so I watched the rest not knowing if the convicted man was guilty. By the end of the film, it was no longer an issue...
The same appeared to happen with the racial issues presented. The open demoralizing of the blacks (by the whites) was soon overshadowed by the more personal issues of spirituality and self-esteem. One of Cheadle's finer performances, in my opinion, with equally impressive supporting performances.
This is a wonderful film, with a "Lesson" or two for us all.
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36 of 41 people found the following review helpful By J. Crean on August 14, 2002
Format: DVD
This movie faithfully captures the essence of the book and brings it to life. When I read the book I just loved it. Shortly after I finished reading the book, I found out that HBO was going to show the movie, but I didn't have HBO. So when I saw that it had come out on DVD, I knew I had to buy it. When I got it, I popped it in right away and WOW, I was pleasantly surprised. It followed the book very well and wasn't "Hollywood-ized".
I warn that this movie isn't very action-packed, but it's a great intriguing drama. I recommend it to anyone looking to see an intelligent, well-made movie.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A. Vegan on April 6, 2006
Format: DVD
A "Lesson Before Dying" is a powerful and passionate film, so beautifully written and so beautifully acted it is one of those rare exceptions where the film adaptation is better than the book. Mehki Phifer gives a powerful performance as Jefferson, a young man sentenced to die for a crime he did not commit. He truly brings honesty and humanity to a young man who is seen by white society as inhuman. And Don Cheadle brings compassionate and dignity to the teacher who must help Jefferson stand tall.

I can't say enough about "A Lesson Before Dying." The injustice committed will anger you, the fate of Jefferson will sadden you, but ultimately knowing these people and sharing in their lives, and seeing dignity and love rise from the ashes of a cruel and uncaring world make the anger and sadness worth it all.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 6, 2004
Format: DVD
This movie was excellent, very sad but realistic about racism and how African Americans were not treated equally in the South. A great line from the movie that sums up the entire film is "when a white man dies, a black man has to pay for it", in summary. No matter who is actually guilty, whether there's proof or not, a black man must die. I don't think I'd want to see this movie again because it was very, very sad, but powerful. A great movie and I'm glad I watched it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Alistair McHarg on April 8, 2007
Format: DVD
From screenplay, to cinematography, and most certainly through the exceptional performances, this superb film is a tearjerker you can feel good about - on many levels.

The movie's most compelling quality is its clear-eyed view of racism in America's deep south. The black people we meet all have distinct personalities complete with problems, strengths, fears, disappointments, and ambitions - just like anybody else. They are people first, black people second. Racism, in all of its cruel and unjust stupidity, does not define them; it is simply the water they swim in, the air they breathe. This unbiased neutrality imbues A Lesson Before Dying with real force.

Every life is seen through the lens of racism. Jefferson (Mekhi Phifer) is the purest of victims, Grant (Don Cheadle) is the intellectual wrestling with fight or flight, Tante Lou (Cicely Tyson) is fierce in her belief that self-discipline holds the answer, while the unforgettable Miss Emma (Irma Hall) embodies all we've ever learned about the abiding courage and astounding endurance of black women, still strong enough to love, give, and do what it takes to defend their own.

This is a tough-minded picture that asks a very hard question. Everyone knows Jefferson is innocent, they also know he will be executed. But how can Grant help him die with dignity? Why is that such an important goal - a gift to himself, to Miss Emma, and to the children of the town? This quest touches everyone.

Don Cheadle is always worth watching, he was haunting in Hotel Rwanda. The good news is that his exceptional performance here is one of many that are woven together into a powerful, and very American story. Highly recommended.
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