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The Green Mile

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All-Reviews.com Movie Review: The Green Mile

Starring: Tom Hanks, Patricia Clarkson
Director: Frank Darabont
Rated: R
RunTime: 180 Minutes
Release Date: December 1999
Genre: Drama


*Also starring: James Cromwell, Jeffrey DeMunn, Michael Duncan, Graham Greene, Bonnie Hunt, Christopher Joel Ives, Michael Jeter, David Morse, Gary Sinise



Review by Greg King
3½ stars out of 4

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 giant.

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

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