Two's Views Film Review
by: Mary Baker & J. C. Adamson

The Shawshank Redemption


Synopsis

Director: Frank Darabont 
Cast: Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton, Clancy Brown, Gil Bellows, James Whitmore 
Set mostly in Maine's Shawshank State Prison, over three decades, this is the tale of one man's victory over a brutal environment, as he serves two consecutive life sentences. It takes him more than twenty years to triumph, and the nature of his conquest is surprising. 

Rating:
Mary
J. C.

Review

JC: The Shawshank Redemption is a compelling human drama, with a solid story, decent acting, and satisfying production values.

Tim Robbins had me believing in his characterization of prison inmate Andy Dufresne, who is convicted of the murder of his wife and her lover. He's serving life in an inhumane prison.

There are several levels to the story. It is certainly about Andy's personal struggle. There's also the subtext dealing with the immorality and brutality of prisons. But for me, the more important story tells of the powerful friendship that grows between Andy and lifer Red Redding, played by Morgan Freeman. It begins with simple affection and respect for each other. It develops with rock-solid loyalty and trust that gives each man the strength to earn his personal victory. I left the theatre inspired.

Mary: There's not much to dislike about this film. It's another movie based on a story from Stephen King's collection Different Seasons. This book also brought us the films Stand By Me and The Running Man. I enjoyed the short stories and now this third film.

The plot itself is simple and clear; prison life is hell. There are a few twists that enhance the plot and of course, some main players are "Redeemed."

Clancy Brown (Captain Hadley) is nightmarishly mean as the warden's right hand man. He was relentlessly robotish in his hatred. Frightening. "Shawshank" is the perfect name for a prison, too and this one fits the name.

JC: The detailing of prison conditions was powerful. The stark grayness, the human degradation, the brutality and terror left images in my mind that arise again and again. As vividly as the movie treats these subjects, there is no gratuitous violence. The savagery we see is essential to the impact of the film. Squeamish viewers will have a couple of anxious moments, but will still be able to appreciate the quality of the picture.

Shawshank Redemption is set in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. I fear that the inhumanity it depicts has not vanished from our prison system. I suppose many of the ancient, filthy structures have come down, but I doubt that the people have changed.

Mary: I don't think prison life can be any other way. Prison is an institution and this film is about institutions and how people are trapped in them, guilty or innocent. The hope lies in the truth that no matter where you are, you can still develop friendships, and be a decent person. The despair lies in giving your life to an institution, as did Brooks Hatlen (James Whitmore). Brooks spent fifty years in prison. He gave Shawshank his life. The prison itself was a character too, because it took Brooks' life. When he left he had nothing. Whitmore was excellent as the despondent Brooks.

JC: Morgan Freeman does as well as Whitmore, and in a larger role. He quietly and comfortably explores the depth of Red, a strong, but still victimized prisoner. The movie isn't flawless. It's longer than it needs to be, at two-and-a-half hours. It's too good a story to be wrapped up in ninety minutes, but something in between would have worked.

Mary: I agree with you about the time. I start getting antsy at two hours, but this is a minor flaw.

JC: It's director Frank Darabont's first major effort for the big screen. Nice start. I'll be looking forward to his next film, to see if he'll continue working at this level. We may see some more memorable movies from him.

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1996, J. C. Adamson & Mary Baker


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