Monday, March 19, 2012
100 Movies - No. 80: The Shawshank Redemption
Crime, Drama, 142 minutes
Directed by Frank Darabont
Starring Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman and Bob Gunton
The Shawshank Redemption sits at the top of the IMDB Top 250 with a rating of 9.2/10, so it clearly appeals to the majority of those who have seen it. It's also hated by some because they can't agree that it's the best film ever made. While I understand that argument, I find it difficult to believe that the haters can't respect it on some level. However, I don't care about any of that. This is my list and I love the film.
The story begins in 1946 with the trial of Andy Dufresne (Robbins) and we see him convicted for murdering his wife and her lover. The next 30 minutes shows him arriving at the prison and slowly adapting to life behind bars. Darabont uses a number of violent scenes to establish that prison life is somewhat brutal, but he doesn't dwell on it as the film progresses.
This is a film about hope and friendship more than anything else. It just happens to be set in a prison. Andy befriends Red (Freeman), because he's a man who knows how to obtain items from the outside world. Their friendship and mutual respect is there from the start and develops throughout the film.
Andy is an educated man and he finally attracts the attention of the most brutal prison guard in a memorable rooftop scene. The guard has inherited some money and fears that the IRS will take a big chunk. Andy shows him a way to avoid losing any of it. That single event is the catalyst for significant change in Andy's life. The guards begin to protect him and he's given a job which enables him to use some of his knowledge. He's well-liked by both the inmates and the guards.
Warden Norton (Gunton) is one of the most corrupt men in Shawshank, even though he runs the place. He seems fairly harmless, but he's actually evil, greedy and dangerous. He provides the main source of conflict in the film.
Andy strives to improve prison life for everyone, as evidenced by his campaign to win funding for the library. He makes the best of his situation at all times.
The final 30 minutes of the film is extremely uplifting. Stephen King wrote the short story on which the film is based and his influence can clearly be seen. One of the things I like about King is the sense of justice present in his stories. If you think back to The Green Mile, you'll see what I mean. The Shawshank Redemption covers 20 years of Andy's life. Darabont wanted the final scene to be omitted, but the conclusion is still incredible.
In the 18 years since the film was made, you've probably heard dozens of Morgan Freeman voice-overs. If you watch the film, you'll see why.
One of the themes present in the film is how inmates can become institutionalized. Imagine being in prison for 50 years. How would things have changed in the outside world? It would be bad enough missing 20 years. Think about the advances made since the early 1990s. If you stepped out of a prison cell after 20 years, wouldn't you wonder why everyone walked around talking into their cellphones? You might light a cigarette and be arrested.
I would recommend The Shawshank Redemption to anyone. You might not like it, but there's a strong chance you will. Robbins and Freeman are both superb. I watch the film twice a year and never tire of seeing it.
If you like The Shawshank Redemption:
I mentioned The Green Mile and it's the closest in feel to The Shawshank Redemption. Both films are set in a prison, directed by Frank Darabont and based on the work of Stephen King. They move slowly and take the time to develop the characters. Tom Hanks and Michael Clarke Duncan are outstanding, and there's not a bad performance in the entire film.
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