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At the Death House Door

3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

James and Gilbert have made their reputations on socially committed documentary work (Hoop Dreams and Stevie—for both of which Gilbert was the cinematographer and James was the director). The strength of their films comes from their patience in letting us get to know people in all their complexities and contradictions. In Carroll Pickett, a Texas prison chaplain who gave spiritual counsel to nearly 100 death row prisoners before execution, they seem to have a perfect subject for this doc (which goes to IFC TV May 29 after its theatrical run).

Pickett was a supporter of the death penalty until the execution of Carlos De Luna in 1989 shook Pickett to the core. The evidence that sent De Luna to death was iffy at best, and the police and the D.A. seem to have actively suppressed the fact that another man was implicated and had even bragged about the crime.

Pickett’s conversion to antideath-penalty advocate ought to be riveting, but he guards his emotions closely. Perhaps to juice up the drama, or because their real interest is in protesting the death penalty, James and Gilbert shift their focus to De Luna’s suriving sister for the last third of the doc. For those already convinced that the death penalty is wrong, that won’t be a problem. But if James and Gilbert want to change hearts and minds, it is.

Cast and crew

  • Director:Peter Gilbert, Steve James
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