December 21, 2007

Film review: The Green Mile

by Felipe Coser

FILM: The Green Mile
United States, 1999
DIRECTOR: Frank Darabont
WRITERS: Frank Darabont (screenplay), Stephen King (novel)
GENRE: Drama
RUNTIME: 188 min
CAST: Tom Hanks, David Morse, Bonnie Hunt, Michael Clarke Duncan, James Cromwell, Michael Jeter, Grahan Greene, Doug Hutchison, Sam Rockwell, Bary Pepper, Jefrey Demunn, Patricia Clarkson, Harry Dean Stanton, Dabbs Greer, Eve Brent.

Based on a Stephen King's book, "The Green Mile" (reference to the green path linking the cells to the electric chair) is not just a story about death sentence, violence and living in prison; it's more about respectful relationships among guards and prisoners and also about a special gift (the ones we desire many people could have) carried by one of the inmates. At least that's the message we all want to keep rather than some terrible scenes of executions. Actually, Frank Darabont (director and screenwriter) had tried some of the same elements in one of his previous works ("The Shawshank Redemption"), what gave him some good background. These elements are especially those which show the good side of everyone, like humanity, honor, loyalty and friendship.

The story takes place in the death row of a certain prison in the south of the US between the end of 1920's and beginning of 1930's. The plot develops around Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks, Best Actor for "Philadelphia" - 1993 and "Forrest Gump" - 1994) as he leads the crew in charge of carrying out the prisoners stay on their way to execution. He's got a big handy workmate, Brutus "Brutal" Howell (David Morse, from "The Indian Runner", "12 Monkeys") who is very useful in solving troubles, mainly the ones caused by the annoying spoiled Percy Wetmore (Doug Hutchison), the governor's step-nephew. He seems more like a delinquent than a guard himself. Bary Pepper (Dean Stanton, from "Saving Private Ryan") and JeffreyDemunn (Harry Terwilliger, from "The Price) complete the team.

Paul's noble feelings, such as his dignity, became clear when treating prisoners like Eduard Delacroix (Michael Jeter, from "Patch Adams"), William "Wild Bill" Wharton (Sam Rockwell, from "Lawn Dogs"), who deserves a very good mention for his performance as a deranged man, and especially, John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan, from "Armagedon"), "like the drink, only not spelled the same". John is a sensitive huge black man who has this very special power of cure. He has been sentenced for the killing of two little girls.

Since the book was published in chapters the movie may seem odd to some viewers, as the film goes along three hours. Someone could wonder how come almost all the scenes were taken inside the prison (showing only the death row and its facilities) and it still got the audience's attention. The director turns this delicate characteristic (it could even compromise the whole work) into a favourable aspect of the movie by focusing on characters' feelings, on their temperament, rather than on the predictably violent scenes, for example. Paul and Coffey, particularly, have got depth. Being the chief, Paul knows exactly how to deal with the criminals, heavily or not, depending on what the situation asks for. Coffey having all those attributes (physical strength, parapsychological powers) could be just the good guy unfairly caught (only because of his skin colour), who has been still crying for his sentence, but no; he's given up, he's just tired of living. The execution scenes are mainly as disgusting as those written in the book and perhaps could have been left out.

It's worth seeing it, especially for the way Darabont conducts the movie mixing the different elements while the narrative goes. Elements such as a couple of funny scenes help to make the theme lighter than it really is. The performances of Hanks, Duncan and Rockwell help a lot to justify the time (what a time!) spent watching it.

Read also:
Book review: The Innocent Man (John Grisham)

More reviews:
Rumble Fish
The da Vinci Code
The English Patient
Under the Tuscan Sun

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