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IFC presents
Pierrepoint: The Last Hang Man (2005)

"I did a lot of jobs in Germany. More than were really good for me. Too many really. I get so bloody tired now."
- Albert Pierrepoint (Timothy Spall)

Review By: Chuck Aliaga  
Published: October 29, 2007

Stars: Timothy Spall
Other Stars: Juliet Stevenson, Eddie Marsan, Christopher Fulford
Director: Adrian Shergold

MPAA Rating: R for (disturbing images, nudity, brief sexuality)
Run Time: 01h:35m:26s
Release Date: October 30, 2007
UPC: 796019805407
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- A-B+B+ C

DVD Review

Capitol punishment has been depicted in many ways throughout film history. We've seen lethal injection in Dead Man Walking and even some magic in the electric chair via The Green Mile, but death by hanging has not been covered so closely, and with such detail as in Pierrepoint: The Last Hang Man. Shot in 2005, the film made its debut as part of the IFC First Take series premiering on pay-per-view simultaneous to a limited theatrical release. Now on DVD, this is a biopic that is well worth a look.

Albert Pierrepoint (Timothy Spall), following in his father's footsteps, served as hang man from 1933-1955. Knowned for his speedy and humane execution methods, Pierrepoint goes from total anonymity to worldwide recognition. Still, his is a job that is difficult for those close to him, including his wife, Annie (Juliet Stevenson), and his good friend, Tish (Eddie Marsan). When one of his "victims" turns out to be someone very close to him, Pierrepoint must decide whether his career is worth such great sacrifices.

Despite staying in line with many standard biopic conventions, the story does take a unique approach to its subject matter. For a film about an executioner, it's refreshing to see the filmmaker refrain from pulling any punches and daring to show each and every person condemned to, die. We see their bodies descend with the noose tightly bound around the neck, and we hear every neck-breaking crack. The sounds are almost more gut-wrenching than the visuals, offering substantial insight into what it's like to witness such a horrible event.

It's also refreshing that a picture about such controversial subject matter manages to nearly avoid all touchy aspects of it. There are scenes of people protesting Pierrepoint's job, but the story never preaches nor compels us to take sides. Most audiences welcome the chance to have their own experience about such an issue, and that's just what we're allowed to do.

Character actor Timothy Spall is magnificent as Pierrepoint, effortlessly exuding a reserved, humble confidence. This is an award-worthy performance, but unfortunately it's flown so far under the radar, that Spall is sure to be ignored. Stevenson also excels as Pierrepoint's wife, pulling her own weight. Most of the film rests on the shoulders of these fine, little-known actors, and they never falter.

There is, however, a misstep in the minor twist near the end. The only reason this isn't as compelling as it could have been is the predictability of this conceit. I would be surprised if most viewers don't see this coming from a mile away. But it does result in an Oscar-weight moment from Spall, as he finally shows us Pierrepoint at his ultimate breaking point.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The film is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and the images are sharp and finely detailed throughout. The color palette is intentionally drab, but there are glimpses of vibrant hue. Dirt, grain, and other print flaws are thankfully kept to a minimum.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is also quite good, with active surrounds and nice directional effects. Most impressive are the sounds heard during the execution, as each of these acts comes with violent, realistic sound effects. The dialogue is always crisp and clear, and is never interfered with by other audio elements.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring This is England, You Kill Me, The Wind that Shakes the Barley
2 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Adrian Shergold.
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The extras include an audio commentary track by director Adrian Shergold. This is a generally insightful piece, with Shergold's pride in his film evident throughout.

There's also the theatrical trailer for the feature and a pair of deleted scenes that don't amount to much other than extended footage of a dream sequence that is very effective as-is in the film.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

A wonderful character story and a powerful biopic, Pierrepoint" The Last Hang Man is a little-seen movie that deserves a bigger audience with its strong acting and a subject that warrants post-screening debate. IFC's DVD is a decent effort, featuring nice audio and video and a couple of extras to boot.


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