Drama (US); 1999;
Rated R; 190 Minutes
Tom Hanks: Paul Edgecomb
David Morse: Brutus "Brutal" Howell
Bonnie Hunt: Jan Edgecomb
Michael Clarke Duncan: John Coffey
James Cromwell: Warden Hal Moores
Michael Jeter: Eduard Delacroix
Graham Greene: Arlen Bitterbuck
Doug Hutchison: Percy Wetmore
Sam Rockwell: William "Wild Bill" Wharton
Barry Pepper: Dean Stanton
Produced by Frank Darabont and David Valdes; Directed
and screenwritten by Frank Darabont; based on the
novel by Stephen King
by DAVID KEYES
straight out of the pages of a Stephen King saga comes the
long-anticipated film adaptation of "The Green Mile." From
director Frank Darabont, the man behind another prison drama
adaptation called "The Shawshank Redemption" (which is,
ironically, also written by King), here is a project not
that far-stretched from the territory previously explored
by the man behind the camera. Rather than a study of human
life after decades inside Shawshank Prison, however, this
complex story revolves around the unfortunate inmates of
death row, who are destined to walk the emblematic "green
mile" to meet their fates in the electric chair (appropriately
nicknamed "Ol' Sparky"). The guards of this block of inmates
seldom tantalize their prey (as was the situation in "Shawshank"),
and instead develop relationships with each of them that
seemingly resemble those you'd have with lifelong friends.
But the guards accept the fate of these felons, and know
that, at one time or another, each will be walking down
the hall to face their doom.
only there was a death row for movies....
we have a film that approaches greatness in a few scenes,
and utter disappointment in most of the others. Darabont,
who has waited five long years before returning to the director's
chair, shares parallels with his previous hit at the most
inopportune times; several comparisons between the two films
is inevitable. But most who see this as a step down from
his previous hit will immediately excuse the fall from greatness,
too (after all, lightning never strikes twice in the same
place). As such, one can expect this project to bring in
countless moviegoers looking for a great movie during Oscar
season. But like "The Thin Red Line," a film that received
a picture nomination last year simply because, I gather,
Terrence Malick's name was attached to it, this is something
that may be nominated for all the wrong reasons. Being too
long and unsteadily paced is only the beginning--the flaws
of "The Green Mile" run so deep that you can almost see
is, for instance, the paint-by-number performance from Tom
Hanks, who has seen three Oscar nominations this decade
along with two wins. Because of some strong campaigning
and rave reviews from major critics, this will undoubtedly
ensure Hanks for a fourth Oscar nod. But his role as a prison
guard with compassion for the destined inmates is far below
the merit of "Philadelphia" and "Saving Private Ryan"; his
lack of focus and emotional distance weakens some of the
story's most important threads. By the time he realizes
that one of his prisoners is blessed with a life-changing
gift, we have almost completely lost interest in him.
the story, Hanks' character Paul Edgecomb comes across an
intriguing new inmate--John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan),
an individual roughly the size of a wrestler, with a heart
just about as big as a boulder. Coffey intrigues Edgecomb,
especially considering the crime he has been convicted of
(more on that later). The first sight of his tremendous
size almost stuns the guards on the mile, but then, after
a brief introduction, they discover this monstrosity is
nothing more than a gentle giant.
you have any questions?", Edgecomb politely asks.
you leave the light on after bedtime?", Coffey mutters.
"Sometimes I get scared."
movie isn't about criminals or guards, but a spiritual significance
that divides and unites them. Paul's four comrades--Harry
Terwilliger (Jeffrey DeMunn), Dean Stanton (Barry Pepper),
Brutus Howell (David Morse) and Percy Wetmore (Doug Hutchinson)--offer
a significant dramatic richness to the story, and have fun
in checking up on the inmates, either as friends or as villains.
But to be expected, the movie, like the book, presents us
with characters that are more intriguing and strategically
acted when they are placed behind bars.
is only the beginning--another notable soul is the one belonging
to Eduard Delacroix, who is on death row for reasons I care
not to share. Based on descriptions, one would immediately
jump to the conclusion that this is a soul beyond redemption.
Actually, he is quite subtle for someone ready to die for
a heinous crime--he even befriends a mouse in the movie
named Mr. Jingles, which has additional fun stirring up
the others of the cell block.
be expected, though, every character study comes straight
back to John Coffey, who is so well acted by Michael Clarke
Duncan that, yes, he deserves an Oscar nomination more than
the headliner. We grow easily fond of his cuddly stature
and sweet disposition; there comes a time, however, when
we must question our judgment of him. This part arrives
when the movie, heavyset on flashbacks, reveals the crime
Coffey has been convicted of, which involves townsfolk discovering
two dead girls in his arms, his hands soaked in their blood.
At the scene of the crime, Coffey announces "I tried to
take it back," which acts only as a confession in the eyes
of those who convicted him. Later, when a discovery of supernatural
proportions is revealed in his hands, those words take on
a completely new meaning.
novel, which was released in six parts, is a fascinating
period piece about characters who are redeemed for their
decisions and ways of life, and the translation to screen
is, at least, mildly successful because it stays true to
the story, and draws on some strong dramatic tension. However,
much of success could have been achieved in a shorter running
time. At 190 minutes, "The Green Mile" is like watching
an astounding drama on the slow-motion button; because of
it, the story slags, certain characters are overexplored,
situations become routine, pacing is poor, and, maybe most
importantly, the film's underlying theme is overly-imbeded
by a horde of plot twists. Films in epic scale gain their
length because they require a substantial amount of time
to develop several characters, guide them into the story,
and treat them as equals. Films like "Titanic" are epic
because the number of characters is far higher than that
of your typical drama film. "The Green Mile" is undeserving
of the time it is given, because it isn't epic by a long
at least the movie is good to look at. David Tattersall's
cinematography is extraordinarily effective, shooting from
sharp viewpoints that seem difficult to handle, but always
ensure we have the best angle possible. No doubt, his work
on "The Green Mile" and "Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom
Menace" should anchor a lengthy career in the movie business.
short, however, not all the effective details can begin
to save the film from a length that discredits much of the
emotional charge. "The Green Mile" is that rare film that
enchants us visually and spiritually, but gets so wrapped
up in those virtues that it loses track of time.
1999, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org.
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