Director: Frank Darabont
Writer: Frank Darabont
If you ask me,, movies are the greatest thing in the world. I love how they can make you feel good in all sorts of way. Some make you laugh, some make you think, some thrill you, some make you think, some impress you… And then there’s these very rare pictures that go beyond all this, that come and touch you so deeply that you’ll never be quite the same. Movies that make you want to live fully, that make you believe that it’s all worth it. Sometimes it’s just a simple lesson subtly expressed through the picture, yet it still blows your mind. The Shawshank Redemption is one of these films that you can’t love but cherish. It’s based on a novella by Stephen King, one of most gifted American authors. Sometimes people forget that behind the creepy stuff and the horror, there’s a real knowledge of life and people that shine through his work. He wrote my favorite book ever, “It”, which involves a homicidal clown and all sorts of monsters but is really about childhood, dreams, fears, ideals, true love, loss of innocence and other important themes. Tons of King’s writings have been adapted for TV or the big screen, but a lot of them just stopped at the superficial thrills and were little less than B-movies. But there were some very good movies based on his work: Brian De Palma’s “Carrie”, Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining”, Rob Reiner’s Misery” and “Stand By Me”, David Cronenberg’s “The Dead Zone”… But none of these films approached the brilliance of “The Shawshank Redemption”.
The film is narrated by Red (Morgan Freeman), an aging Black man who spent most of his life in Shawshank, a new England prison where he was sent after being convicted of murder. Things were rough at first, but Red gradually became ‘institutionalized’, i.e. the inside became more real to him than the outside world. He gained a reputation as the man who can get you anything, whether it’s booze, cigarettes or reefer you’re looking for. And then one day arrives a new prisoner who will change his life, Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), a young and successful banker who was (wrongfully?) convicted of the murder of his wife and lover. Quiet and reserved, Andy becomes the target of the Sodomites, but he has the strength of character to stand up to them. The movie is about how Dufresne refuses to give up even in these horrendous circumstances. He puts his former life talents to use by doing the taxes of the guars, who in return don’t treat him too abusively, and he eventually even becomes the warden’s personal accountant. Andy also keeps his mind busy by sculpting and polishing rocks, taking care of the prison library and even helping illiterate inmates like Tommy (Gil Bellows) get their high school diploma.
The Shawshank Redemption is definitively not your usual, exploitative prison movie. There are some rough, unsettling moments, and we learn that the warden and his guards can be as crooked as the cons, but the movie is really about the human spirit. It uses the hard, disheartening world of prison to show that even in such an environment, life can bloom. Writer-director Frank Darabont (as hard as it is to believe, this is his debut) balances perfectly this odd contrast of horror and beauty, sin and grace. He crafts some moments of such ironic poetry that it made me cry. Cause more than anything, the film is about hope. About how no matter how bad your situation is, you must stay hopeful and keep dreaming. Or as Andy puts it, “Get busy living or get busy dying.” Darabont did an amazing job putting Stephen King’s powerful tale on film. The cinematography, the music, the storytelling, it’s all perfect. The picture lasts some 140 minutes, but it’s always riveting filmmaking. That also has to do with the great cast, led by impeccable performances by Freeman and Robbins. Their friendship through their life sentences is central to the story, so it was important that there would be palpable chemistry between them. They’re both tremendously talented actors, and they’re able to make us forget about themselves and fully bring these characters to life. You take any moment in the film and it feels just right, that’s how good they are. This truly is one of best movies I have ever seen. Not only is it intelligent, moving and fascinating, it also quietly leads to one of the most satisfying payoffs in movie history, and that ending still works for me even though I’ve seen the film many times. “The Shawshank Redemption” will instantly become a favorite of anyone who watches it.