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Katy Chevigny and Kirsten Johnson built their video documentary about capital punishment around Governor George Ryan's decision to empty death row before his term ended in January 2003, and the sleekly tooled narrative is so rich with political history, moral argument, and raw emotion that I found myself on the edge of my seat even though I already knew the outcome. The molten core of the story is the clemency hearings Ryan held in 2002, at which family members of both the condemned and their victims pleaded for justice in the most intimate terms; Chevigny and Johnson balance this with a cool assessment of how crime and the death penalty became a national issue in the 1970s. At 92 minutes this could hardly be considered a definitive statement, yet its combination of high drama and carefully articulated principle delivers quite a punch. Gene Siskel Film Center.

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