We gave it a B-
In 1948 Louisiana, jaded schoolteacher Cheadle must help Phifer — unjustly condemned for the murder of a white man — face execution with dignity. Problem is, we get only a glimpse of Phifer pre-arrest in A Lesson Before Dying, this Emmy-winning production, so there’s no way to gauge his transformation.
We do, thankfully, see Cheadle’s — from a man drained by racism to one grasping at a fragile renewal. Reel Goodies (1:16) In a film of big emotion, watch the quiet connection Phifer and Cheadle forge in this jail-cell scene. The Last Detail HBO has been good to Cheadle — he was nominated for two Emmys, one for his performance here, another for his portrayal of Sammy Davis Jr. in ”The Rat Pack.”