TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! Filmmakers Marcus McKenzie and Daniel Principe dive right into the capital punishment debate with their short film, Last Meal. The film investigates the efficacy of the death penalty by delving into the last meals of some of America’s most notorious death row inmates.
Narrated by Hugh Ross and presented as colorful coffee table book art, the last meals of the soon-to-be executed are recreated using the best techniques of food art and photography. The film opens with John Wayne Gacy’s last meal of Kentucky Fried Chicken, french fries, strawberries, and a Diet Coke—then followed by his last words, “Kiss my a*s!” As his last meal, Timothy McVeigh ordered two pints of mint chocolate chip ice cream. Holocaust architect Adolf Eichmann requested a bottle of Israeli red wine with prison-issued cheese, bread, and olives.
Not everyone got their final meal. Many inmates refused their final meal and instead asked for what was being served that day to the rest of the prison population. Some would request an elaborate meal and not eat it, which prompted the state of Texas to stop fulfilling last meal requests. Also, the press only receives the request of the inmates and questions whether they actually received the meal at all.
“…investigates the efficacy of the death penalty by delving into the last meals of…death row inmates.”
As Last Meal progresses, many of the arguments supporting the death penalty are challenged, including its effectiveness as a deterrent, putting to death the mentally disabled, and the most critical argument—the death of wrongly convicted. It is not hard to guess that the filmmakers are not fans of the death penalty. But, even if one is on the exact opposite side as McKenzie and Principe, they do a good job at articulating why and how they reached their views on the issue.
Not to get political, I’m middle of the road here. The film opens with criminals who were actually guilty of their crime in Gacy, McVeigh, Eichmann, and Ted Bundy—kind of glad their gone. When evidence is less definitive, I’m not opposed to staying an execution. Honestly, I think that is the point of the short, to start a conversation and have the audience reassess their ideas.
Last Meal is not an overly impassioned plea to abolish the death penalty. Instead, it uses the last meal and its salivating recreations as a way of restarting the discussion and debate of the death plenty. When it comes to life and death or guilt and innocence, the debate should never end.
Last Meal screened at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival.
"…does a good job at articulating why and how they reached their views on the issue."