Date: December 12th, 1999Cast:
Edgecomb - Tom Hanks
John Coffey - Michael Clarke Duncan
Brutus Howell - David Morse
Dean Stanton - Barry Pepper
Percy Wetmore - Doug Hutchison
William Wharton - Sam Rockwell
Jan Edgecomb - Bonnie Hunt
Warden Hal Moores - James Cromwell
Director: Frank Darabont
Previews: The Hurricane ($$$), The Perfect Storm ($$), The Talented Mr. Ripley ($$$), Any Given Sunday ($$$)
I consider myself to be a critic, or at least someone who sees movies, then communicates my opinions on them to those who will listen. It can sometimes be difficult to not let external sources influence my opinion of a movie. The advent of the Internet has added to the already existing forums of TV review shows, and newspaper reviews. Now, through any number of sources, we can find out what someone thinks of a movie, before ever seeing it. This has its advantages and disadvantages. On the upside, you can get several viewpoints, and determine whether or not you want to see it. On the downside, it can sometimes unfairly influence your viewpoint, and take away from the originality of experiencing the filmmakers true vision on your own. My point of this ramble is this; it would be difficult to not have seen any type of opinion on The Green Mile. Even before its release, word of mouth has been buzzing, and Oscars name has even been mentioned. I tried, as much as I could, to go into this movie with no expectations. However with strong opinions so prevalent and my own admiration for Stephen King novels, and Darabonts previous effort, The Shawshank Redemption, it was difficult not to have expectations of grandeur and greatness. I was a bit let down, and weary by the completion of my journey down "The Mile"
I viewed Shawshank twice this week, it is one of my all-time favorites and I sometimes like to do theme watching prior to my movie ventures. Shawshank is a masterpiece in every sense of the word. It contains effective use of imagery, storytelling, acting and emotional power, all of which are combined into a perfect package. Darabont took 5 years off before coming back to collaborate with King again, and while he has succeeded here in making a good film, he has not made a great one.
The basics of the story are these. It is adapted from a series of 6 King novellas, involving a prison guard, a gentle giant of a prisoner and a magic based in the belief in the power of good. The story is told with a great patience, and deft touch, but is overdone in certain parts, and over emotionalized in others. Its as if they tried too hard to stay true to Kings story. I usually say that King adaptations suffer, because they do not stay true enough to the original story, or cut out too much. Here, cutting would have been a benefit. There are just a few too many unnecessary and overdone scenes. For example, while it was nice to see Gary Sinise and Hanks together again, it is one scene that I believe was unnecessary. I understand the reasoning and purpose, but it just seemed crammed in for informational purposes only. Take out this scene, trim down a couple of others, and the effectiveness and power of the movie's message would not have been lost. Darabont proved in Shawshank, that you can tell a powerful story using intelligent dialogue, strong characters and patience. He showed that this can be done without being overblown or long winded. This time, Darabont has played on the heartstrings a bit too much, and for a bit too long. There are two or three scenes where I swore I could see "Oscar clip" (ala Waynes World) flashing at the bottom the screen. Still, there is no denying the effective emotional power that comes from his methodical, patient story telling, character development and never rushing, nor boring us.
Its difficult to say that a Tom Hanks performance is disappointing. However given his past track record, and the standard that he has set for himself, being just average, and okay, is a bit of a letdown. He makes us believe that he is the character on the screen, but too many times, it felt as if he was Forrest Gump, with an education and a nightstick. The other actors are also effective in their own right. We have the good guys (Barry Pepper (just please do not let him cry onscreen anymore), David Morse and James Cromwell) and some wicked bad guys (Doug Hutchison and Sam Rockwell.) They all do masterful jobs in the roles they are given. The highlight though, both literally, and figuratively, is Michael Clarke Duncan. As John Coffey ("like the drink, cept spelled different") Duncan is at times, innocent, gentle, ignorant, yet knowing (ala Forrest Gump and Rainman) and powerful. If the Oscar voters take anything away from this movie, please let it be Mr. Duncan.
Ultimately Green Mile is a very good movie, but not a great one. It lacks the lasting effect that movie bearing the potential and message should have. We are taken on a long distance journey, that borrows shamelessly from several sources, some of which I have mentioned above. Movie fans will notice similarities not only to Shawshank, but also Gump, and Saving Private Ryan. Are these done out of tribute due to the associations of cast and crew? I really cannot say. Nor can I fairly compare or analyze how well it has been adapted from the books, since I have not read them. However, from what I do know, there is very little that has been left out. Whether the cinematic similarities are the fault of Darabont, the screenwriter, or Kings original story, I do not know. What I can say, is that Green Mile is a powerful, if unoriginal vision. Its basis in finding the answers to life in the simplest of places, has been done before, even better, but like a childs bedtime story, is one that I personally will never tire of seeing. The vision and belief in the strength and faith of the human spirit is admirable, but forgotten too often in the hecticity of life. I recommend the Green Mile as a matinee, or strong video rental, or you could just read the books, it would take about the same amount of time as it does to see the movie. ($$1/2 out of $$$$)
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Images courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures
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