Picks and Pans Review: Last Dance
Doing time on death row has long paid off for actors. Look at James Cagney in Angels with Dirty Faces, Susan Hayward in I Want to Live! and, most recently, Sean Penn in Dead Man Walking. Now Stone is the one counting her last hours, and she makes them count impressively. Playing a woman who has spent 12 years awaiting execution for a double murder in this fictional movie, Stone gives a heartfelt and subdued performance. If she never quite convinces us that she physically inhabits this woman—is hair gel really available on death row?—she certainly connects emotionally with her character. Watch especially for a moving reconciliation scene Stone has with her estranged brother, and one in which she breaks down after receiving a last-minute—but perhaps only temporary—reprieve from lethal injection.
Aside from Stone, Last Dance is one of those movies you keep wishing was better. Blame timing. Any death-row picture coming out so soon on the ankle-cuffed heels of the transcendent Dead Man Walking would suffer by comparison. But the primary problem is that Last Dance, though capably directed by Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy), is less about Stone, whose character at the start has already owned up to her crimes, than it is about Morrow. He plays a rich wastrel who redeems himself and his past as a screwup lawyer when, assigned to review her case, he befriends Stone and makes a fervent last-ditch effort to have her sentence commuted to life imprisonment. This mildewed character and Morrow's shlumpy performance combine to make a partner unworthy of Stone's Last Dance. (R)