Director Frank Darabont's 1994 classic 'The Shawshank Redemption' has become
such a hit with the public that it's incredible the way people still talk
about it five and six years after its release. It received seven Oscar
nominations including one for best picture but didn't win in any category.
Initially a box office flop with a take of only 28 million dollars, the film
gained steam in the second run media such as home video, pay t.v., and
recently, on a much welcomed DVD. Consistently maintaining a position in
the top 5 on the Internet Movie Database's top 250 films of all time, and
right up their in the opinion of film buff's with films such as 'The
Godfather', 'Schindler's List', 'Casablanca' and 'Citizen Kane', 'The
Shawshank Redemption' now provides Darabont with a variation on that film.
Like 'The Shawshank Redemption', 'The Green Mile' is also based on a Stephen
King novel (and is written for the screen by Frank Darabont) and is a prison
film set in the past but with a twist, it's about miracles and the presence
of supernatural goodness witnessed by guards and inmates on a death row
section of prison in the south in the middle of the 1930's. The title of
the film refers to the surface of the floor on death row, covered with green
tile and that walk to the electric chair can certainly seem like a mile with
the thought of where you will spend eternity hanging in the balance.
The film begins in the present day where a nursing home patient reflects on
his past and then we go there to see that as a young man he is portrayed by
Tom Hanks who stars as Paul Edgecomb, the head of the death row guards.
Included in the men under him are Brutus "Brutal" Howell (David Morse) and
the slimy and weasel like Percy (Doug Hutchinson) who has connections in
government and can have any job the state offers and wants to be a prison
guard because he views prison as a "bucket of pi** to drown rats in".
Hutchinson provided many chills for me in the first season of television's
'The X-Files' in 1993-94 in an episode and later in that same season, a
sequel to it where he played a liver eating mutant over a hundred years old
but looking like a man in his early thirties. Sort of an alternative
vampire if you will. The conflicts of duty and conduct on the job for these
death row guards makes the story watchable every second and their eventual
fates are just what the audience deserves to see.
One day, a prisoner is brought in. He is a large black man named John
Coffey and is seemingly over seven feet tall (Michael Clarke Duncan in an
Oscar-worthy role). He is set to be executed but his nature convinces
Edgecomb he is innocent of the crime he was convicted for.....murder. We
see that he has healing powers so great, they are almost God like in helping
many people shake off their physical ailments such as a urinary track
problem that Edgecomb suffers from.
Darabont structures his film in three parts. The execution of three
prisoners, one white, one native-American and the other black, all separated
about an hour apart over the film's three hour running time and the movie
has an anti-climax about hope, faith and showing an eventual injustice by
the time it's all over.
In many ways, the film is better directed than 'The Shawshank Redemption'
since the story is more confined and it is harder for Darabont to find
avenues of interest and the film looks like a play in many spots and its
deliberate slow pace at times is reflective of the very nature of death row,
a process that takes far too much time in the minds of many, especially
those convicted and the surviving members of a victim's loved ones. 'The
Green Mile' is filled with little elements of detail about the day to day
life of both prison guards and inmates and its humanity is countered by the
prejudices and injustices of a darker time where justice seemed to often be
discarded for the sake of comforting those desperate for a conviction.
Something that really hasn't changed in many situations all that much after
all these years gone by.
As of the date of this review, (February 7, 2000), the state of Illinois has
recently suspended the death penalty to look into flaws in the system where
many more people than first thought on death row may actually be innocent.
'The Green Mile' is one of 1999's best films because it centers on making
the film entertainment and emotion first and social commentary second.
After all, the movies should often provide us with thoughts other than those
in our own world and Stephen King's touch of the supernatural in this film
gives us an alternative and original look that can make us feel somewhat
good about a bleak and tragic situation.
Copyright © 2000 Walter Frith