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The Shawshank Redemption

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: The Shawshank Redemption

Starring: Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman
Director: Frank Darabont
Rated: R
RunTime: 142 Minutes
Release Date: September 1994
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Bob Gunton, Clancy Brown, James Whitmore, William Sadler, Mark Rolston, Gil Bellows, Jeffrey DeMunn

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Dragan Antulov review follows movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review
2.  Steve Rhodes read the review movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewmovie review

Review by Dragan Antulov
2½ stars out of 4

One of the great things about movie reviewing is the diversity of opinion. One man's masterpiece is another man's junk, both of them are entitled to express their views and this is how the things are supposed to be. However, the author of this review, although he tries to live by those principles, recollects some situations when he was tempted to sacrifice his personal dissent for the sake of conformity. One of such situations happened with the film which is now considered to be one of the greatest films ever made and which happens to hold top spots in Internet Movie Database polls for years. Sheer numbers - high marks, plenty of people giving those high marks and the amount of time when the film holds the top spot - often give impression of the overwhelming force that single, dissenting reviewer shouldn't oppose. Thankfully, when I first encountered THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, 1994 prison drama by Frank Darabont, I wasn't aware of that. Initial high rating in Internet Movie Database didn't impress me; I thought that the enthusiasm for the film is equal to those that elevated titles like THE ROCK into Top 10 of IMDb and that it would vanish through time. I was wrong, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION is now one of the most popular films of the past decade, but that nevertheless didn't prevent me from keeping maintain my original appraisal of the film.

Frank Darabon't screenplay for THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION is based on the Stephen King's story RITA HAYWORTH AND THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, Plot begins in 1946 when young Portland banker Andy Dufresne (played by Tim Robbins) gets sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of his wife and her lover. Dufresne maintains his innocence but for the next few decades he would have to deal with more practical issues in Shawshank prison, all observed through the eyes of Ellis Boyd "Red" Redding (played by Morgan Freeman), another "lifer" who runs prison's black market and who would gradually become Dufresne's best friend. For the first years of his imprisonment, quiet ex-banker is ridiculed by general prison population and often assaulted by the gang of prison rapists led by Bogs (played by Mark Ralston). His fortune changes when he offers his accounting services to sadistic prison guard Captain Byron Handley (played by Clancy Brown). Soon his boss, Bible- thumping yet utterly corrupt warden Samuel Norton (played by Bob Gunton) hires Dufresne as his personal accountant, and in exchange for his help with embezzlement, kickbacks, tax evasion and other illegal activities, he gets library job and other privileges. But Dufresne also uses his new position in order to improve the prison library and help making life easier for other prisoners. However, although the life behind bars gets better through the years, Dufresne doesn't stop dreaming about freedom.

At first glance, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION looks like a very good film and could be hardly associated with first-time director. The dark, depressive atmosphere of the prison affects the viewers through the efforts of cinematographer Roger Deakins, soundtrack composer Thomas Newman and good use of old, defunct real life prison locations. The acting is also great. Tim Robbins is good as quiet, enigmatic character whose agenda remains the mystery until the very end, while Freeman gives truly superb performance as cynical prisoner who is going to experience change of heart. Two of them have great chemistry together, but the supporting cast is also very good and it ranges from veterans like James Whitmore in very touching role of an old "institutionalised" prisoner to Bob Gunton who often played villains, but hardly so convincingly as in this film. But the best thing about THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION is Darabont's decision to employ old-fashioned film techniques and not allow time constraints to stand in the way of the storytelling. His indirect approach, based on narration and quick flashbacks, works fine in this film, allowing the audience to envision decades spent behind bars more easily.

Taking all this into account, the author of this often wondered whether his disappointment with THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION had something to do with the subject matter and the prison experience from his own past. However, after a while, I came to the conclusion that there isn't direct connection between the two. Fortunately, my time behind bars was negligibly short compared with the protagonists of this film and circumstances were completely different. So, the reasons why I don't share other people's enthusiasm for this film come from my perception of flaws in the film itself. First, although the characters in this film are memorable, they nevertheless belong to prison movie cliches - sadistic guards, gang rapists, corrupt warden, protagonist's mentor who "runs" the prison. Cliches later come in some scenes that are supposed to be "meaningful" (like Dufresne playing Mozart via loudspeakers) but in the end look trite and overmanipulative. All that culminates in the last segments of the film when Darabont tries too hard to wrap things up with a neat little happy ending, which comes at the expense of realism and looks too much like a deus ex machina. So, what was supposed to be gritty but uplifting prison drama ends like a standard Hollywood fairytale. However, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION is terribly overrated, but its pluses nevertheless outweigh minuses so the potential audience shouldn't be discouraged from watching it and making their own mind about its quality.

Copyright 2000 Dragan Antulov

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