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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, they say.

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 examples.

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

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