The Green Mile (1999) (R)

After the huge success of "The Shawshank Redemption", Frank Darabont returned again to prison, to Stephen King, and to a boy's movie. The similarities in setting alone are striking between the two pictures and many would argue that "The Green Mile" is just a recycled version of "Shawshank" but I'll let you in on a little secret: I never liked "The Shawshank Redemption". *Gasp*
Yes, I know it's shocking to not appreciate what could be referred to as the most beloved film ever but it didn't do anything for me and my problems far outweighed any good I found in it. So imagine my surprise when "The Green Mile" turned out to be a spectacularly emotional and whimsical movie that never indulged its three hour-plus running time.
This movie concerns the guards more than the prisoners. Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) is a man in a nursing home who likes to take long walks, even though he's not allowed to. He only eats stale bread for breakfast and will walk, rain or shine. One day, when the fight for the television gets some channels changing, "Top Hat" comes on and Paul is sent spiraling back to his earlier years as a death-row prison guard. "The Green Mile" serves as one long flashback for Paul and it is one of the better frame narrative pieces of cinema (as compared to things like "Little Big Man".
Paul serves on Block E, nicknamed "the green mile" for the color of the floor. The first scene we witness in Block E is the arrival of a new prisoner. Very efficient and official, the guards work together like clockwork to bring in the new man, checking all the right boxes and making sure everything is in order. This new inmate is named John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan) and to say that he's a big man would be an understatement. Coffey towards head and shoulders above the rest of the men and he is approximately as broad as two of them. Paul and his cohorts are immediately intimidated by his sheer size, but they soon find out that this is a true gentle giant. He's scared of the dark and has a passion for all things small and cuddly.
For a few weeks, the only person that Paul has to worry about is a fellow guard named Percy (Doug Hutchinson). This boy has a lot of government connections and an attraction for the violent and sadistic. He's often seen making situations worse by spouting his mouth off and doing what he wants and not what's best.
The struggles between Percy and the rest of the guards are only worsened because of an intense bladder infection that Paul has that forces him to be incapacitated easily.
The situation comes to a head when a new inmate nicknamed "Wild Bill" (Sam Rockwell) comes in and does not seem suited for the calming environment that Paul has established.
Tempers flair, emotions rise, and John starts to display some unusual and almost magical properties.
"The Green Mile" reeks of Stephen King's affair with the supernatural and his quest to make a nice piece of drama. It's not scary like the horror King, but is probably the best adaptation of the dramatic King. It far surpasses "Stand By Me" and "The Shawshank Redemption" which are probably the two most lauded pieces of dramatic King's career.
Frank Darapont is seen in top form here, even if his screenplay could have used a little trimming. There is too much happening with Percy for us to care about other characters, minor guards are not given enough time, and soon we notice that all the inmates have disappeared but two. How does that happen unless all the others were already gone?
Tom Hanks is pretty awesome here, but it's Michael Clarke Duncan and Sam Rockwell who really shine in polar opposite roles. Duncan is childish and sweet while Rockwell is vile and twisted. Both are thankless roles and both are quite good.
"The Green Mile" serves as a meditation on life and death at its very core with the themes threaded through the film so often; but it doesn't quite fulfill every aspect of itself and maybe that's because it tries to hard in moments that it doesn't have to.
But all that being said, the movie is powerful and great.

Score: ★★★½

No comments:

Post a Comment