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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

The Green Mile (1999)



Reviews and Comments

Frank Darabont should be the only person allowed to direct Stephen King adaptations. His The Shawshank Redemption is still the best of the bunch, but The Green Mile manages a close second. This is a highly satisfying character-oriented story that is so compelling, it never even occurred to me (not even after the movie was over -- it wasn't until I read Roger Ebert's review, where he brought up the same point I'm making now that I realized) that it isn't very likely the Death Row prison wardens would have acted so civilly toward convicted rapists and murderers (particularly a black man convicted of killing two white girls). It is a great testament to the craftsmanship behind the movie that this unlikelihood is of no negative consequence whatsoever; the story has its own reasons for portraying Death Row as it does, and it's all made absolutely convincing by its thoroughly developed characters.

As a general rule, movies about people are more successful than movies about plot. Too many movies force cardboard characters through flaming plot hoops, and they just don't work. The Green Mile should be upheld as an example of how a good story should be told. Equally important is that the acting is top notch across the board. Tom Hanks cannot seem to go wrong these days, and he certainly doesn't here; he's done similar roles before, but it would be a mistake to discount his performance just because it looks easy. Making it look easy is one of the things that makes Hanks such a terrific actor: when you're watching him, you're watching his character, not showy acting that calls attention to itself. Michael Clarke Duncan, as John Coffey, turns in a brilliant performance worthy of a Best Supporting Actor nomination, at least.

The Green Mile only goes wrong in its final moments. The film takes place in the 1930s, but there is a prologue and epilogue that occurs in the present day. The "bookends" are troublesome to me. After a satisfying story that ends on mostly the right blend of conflicting emotional notes, we zip back to the present day and muck things up with unnecessary and needlessly depressing exposition. In a film that's all about crime, punishment, justice, and injustice, why does the film ultimately take an unjust stance? I didn't buy the explanation, and it left me annoyingly dissatisfied. (I haven't read the book, but I'm told by those who have that the book's ending there is handled a little better.) Interestingly, the same sort of gratuitous moroseness constituted the bulk of my problem with The Shawshank Redemption, too, but at least there it occurred in the middle of the movie rather than the end.

Nonetheless, I recommend The Green Mile very highly; it's a film that approaches greatness, and even though it's flawed, it's one of the most memorable films of 1999.