Writer/director Frank Darabont previously gave us the superb
The Shawshank Redemption, one of the truly great films of the '90's.
He has followed it with yet another prison drama that is every bit as
moving and inspiring and, yes, damn good.
The Green Mile beautifully and brilliantly transcends the
limitations and usual cliches of the genre. Although set on death
row, the film is suffused with a humanity and warmth of spirit that is
both surprising and unexpected, and ultimately elevates the
potentially bleak material into another sphere. This also has more of
an element of fantasy to it.
Like its predecessor, The Green Mile is based on a non-horror
story from Stephen King, and proves that he is a strong writer when he
moves away from the genre that made his name. In fact, it is King's
non-horror stories that have translated best into great films (Stand
By Me, Misery, Dolores Claiborne, etc).
The film is set on Cold Mountain Penitentiary's death row
(affectionately nick-named "the green mile" because of the colour of
its floor) during the bleak depression years. In 1936, John Coffey
(Michael Clarke Duncan, from Armageddon, etc), a giant, barely
literate black itinerant, was convicted of raping and murdering two
nine year old girls and imprisoned in Cold Mountain. Coffey possessed
a special gift that eventually transformed the lives of other
prisoners and even his hardened, cynical guards, who had become
desensitised to the worst atrocities committed by men. Eventually
even the guards begin to believe in the innocence of this gentle
There is something of an obvious religious metaphor to the
story for those who care to look below the surface. Darabont doesn't
overly sentimentalise the material, although the more cynical will
probably dismiss the whole thing as being shamelessly manipulative.
Darabont's direction is beautifully restrained and understated.
Although The Green Mile runs for just over three hours, there is
little wasted screen time and few slack moments. There is a wealth of
incidents here that keeps the audience engrossed, and most will
willingly suspend disbelief for the duration.
The characters are all strongly drawn, and given depth by the
uniformly rich performances from the ensemble cast. Tom Hanks gives a
compassionate performance as head guard Paul Edgecombe, a man
ultimately torn between his beliefs and his duty. Duncan brings an
unexpected dignity and grace to his role as the enigmatic Coffey. The
always excellent David Morse brings restraint to his superb
performance as "Brutal" Howell, Edgecombe's second in command. Doug
Hutchison (best known for his role as Toomes in The X Files) is also
strong as the sadistic and incompetent guard Wetmore, who constantly
flaunts his political connections.
No prison film has yet won an Oscar for Best Picture, but The
Green Mile should prevail if there is any justice. It's that good!
Copyright © 2000 Greg King