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FICTIONAL DOCUMENTARIES AND TRUTHFUL FICTIONS: THE DEATH PENALTY IN RECENT AMERICAN FILM David R. Dow* When it comes to death, most Hollywood movies cheat. They cheat by tinkering with the truth, because the truth as it ac-tually is is too complex or too disturbing to confront honestly. (The so-called happy ending is the most famous form of such cheating.) They cheat because people generally prefer happi-ness and simplicity to darkness and complexity, especially where their entertainment is concerned, and filmmakers tend to give people what they want. Even great movies cheat. For example, last year's Oscar winner for best picture, American Beauty, cheats egregiously. The movie (for the one or two of you who have not seen it) deals with modern times: It is about suburbia, men and women who mindlessly pursue meaningless careers, bigotry, and finally, hope and redemption. In the end, the character played by Kevin Spacey is murdered. This is not a surprise ending because the Spacey charact...