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A Lesson Before Dying

4.6 out of 5 stars 50 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Lesson Before Dying, A (DVD)

Based on the New York Times No.1 bestselling novel and winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, Don Cheadle and Cicely Tyson star in 'A Lesson Before Dying." Grant Wiggins (Don Cheadle) has become resigned to racial injustice in the south. Returning to his home town with a college degree, he continues to teach in the same one-room school of his youth. Struggling to make a difference in an oppressive time and place, Grant is called upon by two local women, Tante Lou and Miss Emma, to visit the town prison. There, Jefferson, a simple young man, has been convicted of a murder he did not commit and sentenced to die like an animal. Jefferson is full of rage and resentment, and the women are convinced that somehow he must be taught to die not like an animal, but like a man. It falls upon the teacher to enrich a life he cannot save and, in so doing, somehow redeem his own, by teaching one young man "A Lesson Before Dying."

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Special Features

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Product Details

  • Actors: Don Cheadle, Cicely Tyson, Mekhi Phifer
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, NTSC, Subtitled
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround), Spanish (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono)
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
  • Studio: HBO Studios
  • DVD Release Date: January 14, 2003
  • Run Time: 101 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0000399WJ
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #10,249 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "A Lesson Before Dying" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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.
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Comment 36 of 39 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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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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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.
Comment 37 of 42 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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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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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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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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