American Violence

Many films have argued that the death penalty should be abolished. 5 Rillington Place (1971) caused Britain to abolish the death penalty. Dead Man Walking (1996) questions the use of lethal injection. The Green Mile (1999) influenced the abolition of the electric chair. Greenfingers (2002) demonstrated how prisoners can be rehabilitated if treated decently. There are others as well, but now American Violence joins the genre far less convincingly. The focus of the film is on Professor of Criminal Psychology Amanda Tyler (played by Denise Richards), who is teaching a class at a Texas university. Jackson Shea (Kaiwi Lyman-Mersereau) has been condemned to death, but the governor has asked xx to interview him in case there are grounds for commuting the sentence from death to life. After she accepts the assignment, she goes to the prison to find out Shea’s life history, especially where he went bad. Shea describes child abuse by an uncle, being doublecrossed in a gang heist, and how the warden of a prison, Richard Morton (played by Bruce Dern), also doublecrossed him. In each case, Shea’s rage only calms down after he kills the instigator. Tyler then writes a report to the governor favoring commutation. She also tries to question a police official, Ben Woods (Columbus Short, who is convinced without evidence of various maxims about the deterrent effect of the death penalty. Director Timothy Woodword, Jr., provides an ending to American Violence that most filmviewers will find as unsatisfactory as the arguments pro and con, but the life story is well told. MH