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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deals With Issues Much Deeper That Skin Color
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...
Published on May 12, 2002 by J. E. George

versus
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A lesson for us all
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...
Published on April 6, 2006 by A. Vegan


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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deals With Issues Much Deeper That Skin Color, May 12, 2002
By 
J. E. George (Aiken, SC United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: A Lesson Before Dying (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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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars There are more important lessons to be learned than death with dignity, September 27, 2005
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This review is from: A Lesson Before Dying (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. After all, the premise of white supremacy is that Negroes are not human, with the idea that they were property rather than people codified in the U.S. Constitution as well as implicit in the practice of slavery. If Jefferson accepts this characterization, advanced by his own attorney and inherent in the social system in which he lives, then convincing him otherwise is a noble effort. The flaw here is that I was not convinced that Jefferson thought he was a hog rather than a man. Maybe my problem is that Jefferson is played by an actor who is playing a doctor on "ER," not to mention the fact that I reject the idea of racial superiority or inferiority. But since his family accepts the fact that the white justice system is going to kill Jefferson I would be inclined to think he would be of a similar mind and that he would not take his lawyer's simile to heart. However, you really have to accept the premise or else the movie cannot have the requisite transformations at the end.

"A Lesson Before Dying" which won the 1999 Emmy for Outstanding Made for Television Movie, is one of those movies adapted from a novel where I have not read the book but I end up thinking the depth it provides probably fixes a lot of the film's shortcomings. Obviously I think the fault is to be found in Ann Peacock's Emmy winning screenplay, because the performances by the cast and as good as you would expect them to be, but if you buy the story's premise from the beginning then you will not be having a major problem with director Joseph Sargent's film. Given the Civil Rights Movement to come what becomes interesting is not so much the battle by Wiggins to communicate with Jefferson, but the conflict between the teacher and Reverend Ambrose (Brent Jennings) over what is best for the condemned young man. Does death with dignity preclude salvation or does the quest for salvation require acceptance of your fate?

Ultimately, the character who learns the most is Wiggins, as the teacher becomes the student. Wiggins is a college educated black man in a place where few of either color get such formal education. He resists being asked to do this task because it means going backwards, giving up some of his own dignity to go with hat in hand to ask the white men to be allowed to meet with Jefferson. The fact that Wiggins wants to marry a light-skinned Negro woman becomes part of this equation as well, because "A Lesson Before Dying" indicts the schoolteacher for turning his back on his race (indeed, there is a scene where his remarks to his students are as demeaning as those of any of the white characters). By the end of the film life with dignity is the goal.
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36 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Faithful to the book, August 14, 2002
By 
J. Crean (San Diego, CA USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: A Lesson Before Dying (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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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A lesson for us all, April 6, 2006
By 
A. Vegan (Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A Lesson Before Dying (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
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good movie, grab a box of tissues., February 6, 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: A Lesson Before Dying (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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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Lesson Before Dying, March 20, 2010
This review is from: A Lesson Before Dying (DVD)
In the 1940's South, an African-American man is wrongly accused of the killing a a white store owner. In his defense, his white attorney equates him with a lowly hog, to indicate that he didn't have the sense to know what he was doing. Nevertheless convicted, he is sentenced to die, but his godmother and the aunt of the local schoolteacher convince school teacher go to the convicted man's cell each day to try to reaffirm to him that he is not an animal but a man with dignity. This movie is very well done, superbly crafted, and the storytelling is excellent. But what keeps me watching is the performances, specifically Don Cheadles. This man is quite simply a great actor. Cicely Tyson remains one of our greatest assets, and the whole cast brings a sensitivity and authenticity to it that makes it a good movie. Worth watching.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Film Adaptation!, March 31, 2001
This review is from: A Lesson Before Dying (DVD)
This was one of the best film adaptations of a book that I have seen in a long time! The film had a great cast and managed to capture the essence of the book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man.", April 8, 2007
This review is from: A Lesson Before Dying (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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good depiction of the novel, March 6, 2011
By 
LonSue (NEW YORK, NY, US) - See all my reviews
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: A Lesson Before Dying (DVD)
The DVD of A lesson Before Dying is well done and well acted, particularly Don Cheadle and Cissely Tyson. My students read the book and looked forward to seeing the movie, which they enjoyed. We had fun comparing and contrasting the similarities and differences between the book and the film. The film stays true to the novel.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hello! This is an American Masterpiece!, September 22, 2007
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: A Lesson Before Dying (DVD)
Hello! This is an American Masterpiece! Where are the critics? Where are the Oscars? This is Americana at its very best! At Amazon's current $6.99 it is a steal. Make sure you have some tissue's available. It's a heart warming tear-jerker of a movie.

Old aunt Emma, Jefferson, the feisty preacher, Irma P. Hall,
Mekhi Phifer, Cicely Tyson and the Grant Wiggins characters are never to be repeated performances.

This film has it all, from injustice in Court to Protestant and Catholic prejudices resolved with a polite conversation.

"A Lesson Before Dying" has made it to the top of the charts in my film world. Take a look. You won't be disappointed.
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A Lesson Before Dying
A Lesson Before Dying by Don Cheadle (DVD - 2000)
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