The Green Mile (1999)
Review by Justin Felix
Screenplay by Frank Darabont.
Based on the novel The Green Mile by Stephen King.
Directed by Frank Darabont.
Starring Tom Hanks, Michael Duncan, and James Cromwell.
Rated R (contains scenes of extreme violence and profanity)
Synopsis: 1930s Death Row warden Paul Edgecomb begins to suspect
his newest prisoner, a huge bulking man convicted of killing two small
girls, possesses supernatural powers and a philanthropic outlook on life.
Comments: Stephen King initially wrote The Green Mile, the
story from which the movie is based upon, in installments. In other words,
the story appeared in serial form and was later collected and republished
as a novel. While some considered this a ploy to garner even more money
from King's legions of fans, others saw this as an attempt to recapture the
feel of serials from the 19th Century. Charles Dickens, for example, wrote
many of his novels in a serial form. Several contemporary critics are
beginning to accept King as the "Dickens of our day". King's voice, in
other words, is the voice of the latter half of the American 20th Century,
Whether or not you feel King is a great writer, a good writer, or a
god-awful writer is largely irrelevant when you see a movie based upon one
of his books. While a number of turkeys exist (the recent Carrie 2
for instance), there can be no denying that several of the finest films
produced in the last decade and a half are based upon King's stories.
The Shining, the understated Stand By Me, and the
Academy-Award-winning suspense classic Misery are just a couple
The film which seems to garner the most fan praise, though, is The
Shawshank Redemption. Because of this, die-hard Stephen King fans and
movie buffs have been waiting for The Green Mile, in some respects a
sequel to Shawshank to be released. The Green Mile, like
Shawshank, revolves around a prison, is based on a King novel, and
features the same director, Frank Darabont.
Was it well worth the wait? Yes. Is it perfect? No. In fact, The
Shawshank Redemption may stand as the superior of the two films, though
I do not necessarily wish to detract from The Green Mile's appeal.
The Green Mile deals with rather unpleasant issues. The main
character, portrayed by Tom Hanks, suffers from a urinary infection and is
in constant pain during the first half of the film. He is the warden at a
prison for Death Row inmates, most of whom are not pleasant people. His
staff includes a sadist who wishes to hurt the inmates in any way he can.
The audience is presented with three electrocutions during the course of
the movie (set, by the way, in the 1930s), and these electrocutions are
presented in a methodically slow and deliberate manner.
The dark subject matter is contrasted, however, with dim-witted John
Coffey, who seems to offer hope to all around him in the prison. Coffey
has been sentenced to death for the murder of two girls, though the
audience, from the very beginning, suspects correctly that he is innocent
of the crimes. Coffey seems responsible for several "miracles" which occur
throughout the film, and his sacrifices are obvious allusions to Christ
(note that they both share the initials J.C.).
While this all may seem "heavy" and dark, there are quite a few moments of
human compassion and humor in the movie as well. A mouse, christened Mr.
Jingles by an inmate, in particular, provides several comic moments. These
moments are necessary, for the movie runs well over three hours. Add in
trailers and theater promotions, the audience sits for nearly 3 1/2 hours.
This is perhaps The Green Mile's weak spot. While a lengthy running
time is certainly justifiable in many films, I couldn't help but feel that
The Green Mile could easily have been cut by about 20 or so minutes.
Several scenes seem to take too much time to develop.
The acting in The Green Mile is superb, and I wouldn't be surprised
if an Academy Award nomination or two are in the works for the cast. Tom
Hanks is good as the lead, but he's supported by quite an ensemble which
includes veterans like Graham Greene, James Cromwell, and Michael Jeter.
Michael Duncan seems to steal the show, however, with his massive presence
as John Coffey, a presence which seems to hang over all the scenes that he
isn't in as well as the ones that he is in.
The Green Mile was released during the Christmas season. While it
doesn't seem like a Stephen King film would make a good family holiday
movie (and, make no mistake, The Green Mile is certainly an adult
film), its theme of redemption and sacrifice, oddly, do seem to resonate
with the holiday spirit. After the atrocious The Rage: Carrie 2,
it's good to see that America's most popular storyteller is again being
well-represented by the movie industry.
(Out of five)
All of Justin's film reviews are archived at The Internet Movie Database