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The Green Mile movie review

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The Green Mile

'The Green Mile' is director Frank Dararbont's follow-up to the universally loved 'The Shawshank Redemption,' and it bears a couple of major similarities but the return to the genre is welcome. Most viewers of 'The Shawshank Redemption' will affectionately recall Red and Andy finally meeting on the beach, or the suicide of old man Brooks, and we can expect the same kind of emotional treatment in this outing. There's even another prison guard who acts cruelly and ruthlessly, a set-up for the picture's sense of morality -- he'll get his just desserts.

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Movie Poster, The Green Mile
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So the elements of justice and purpose are still very evident the second time around, where the intensity of the surroundings are heightened on the turf of the 'Green Mile,' the name given to a stretch of floor on death row. This provides Dararbont with even more emotional leeway to play with, and most of his key supporting characters are characters doomed to death, which makes the film partly a look at how the hardest of criminals react in the final moments of their life and imprisonment. So you can safely presume that Dararbont will cuddle up to his audience -- not necessarily in any light-hearted or pleasant manner -- and use his emotional playground to provoke various reactions.

When a huge black man by the name of John Coffey (Michael Duncan, a perfect choice) is admitted to the Green Mile, he appears to be a warm and affectionate man. Harmless, even. But for an honest man or for a killer in disguise, Jon seems unnaturally kind-hearted, displaying a passionate temperament so far removed from the constraints of the Green Mile cells where death can be smelt in the form of steaming electrified bodies. So the guessing game begins -- where did he come from, what is his purpose in the story? -- and the answers will surprise you. They're designed to, and you would be well advised not to underestimate the imagination of Stephen King.

Tom Hanks, supposedly the average man everyday man, has the lead as Paul Edgecomb, the noble guard in charge of the Mile. He is refrained, careful, calm, gentle; the kind of qualities that become a little frustrating when he's surrounded by so many theatrical revelations. Amidst death, salvation and miracles, Tom Hanks keeps a straight face, as if this is 'Apollo 13' all over again. It's not a bad performance but the choice is questionable. Gary Sinise can be seen in his third film alongside Hanks (though this time it's purely a cameo) and you can imagine Gump, ah, Hanks, running up to him yelling "Luitenent Dan!" with open arms. Not to pointlessly mud-sling, but Tom Hanks hasn't shown any diversity since 'Forrest Gump.' Same man, very similar characters. That's a pity, since when 'The Green Mile' introduces an imperative supernatural element into its narrative, the average man everyday man seems a little too average, a little too everyday. Hanks lacks the freshness of a presence like Michael Duncan's, and I wonder how much better the film would have been if he'd been able to provoke or inspire to the level of depth that Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman carried with ease in 'Shawshank.' Is he just cuddling up to the Oscar(R) committee?

Dararbont, however, is too careful to let the film slip under the weight of pretentiousness, and Hanks is too solid to allow the acting to crumble. Dararbont reassures his ability to create lasting screen moments, and he has plenty of patience as a filmmaker. Subplots are developed with care, including the induction of a cheeky little mouse affectionately named Mr. Jingles -- a good example of the way long films can sustain their running time (it clocks in at three hours and seven minutes) -- that is, quietly but interestingly building to greater things. The simplistic vision of a mouse outsmarting a crew of guards is beautifully effective.

Not everything is warm and fuzzy, however, especially the nasty actions brought on by Percy Wetmore (a convincingly dislikable Doug Hutchison) who instigates the film's most uncomfortable sequence involving an intentionally botched execution. Dararbont's portrayals of the evils within human nature are simplified, even a little shallow, limiting the evil or sinister elements of a personality to about two characters only. Hutchison is Bad. Hanks is Good. Alfred Hitchcock's tactic of conveying both the good and bad within key characters is a far more fathomable approach -- although Dararbont has his own style, and we don't complain because rarely will you see films as effectively compassionate as 'The Green Mile' or 'The Shawshank Redemption.' Dararbont warms to the human element.

And so he finds a way to offer hope in the damnedest of places. The bookend beginning and ending sequences of the film reassure this, and they create a near-poignant view of an old man who "likes to walk." Regardless of whether they are tacked on purely for narration purposes, many singular frames in these scenes tell stories of their own, and provoke and stimulate narrative possibilities. An elderly man, a long past, a closet of hidden secrets, a tool shed with something very special inside. Though simplified, even a little sensationalized, 'The Green Mile' is an excellent example of fable-like storytelling. It's far from perfect but has a special something inside that makes the long sit worthwhile.

On the Buckmaster scale of 0 stars (bomb), to 5 stars (a masterpiece): 3 and a half stars

Send your comments or review Luke Buckmaster
Review copyright Luke Buckmaster Read more of my reviews at In Film Australia http://infilmau.iah.net Due for Australian release February 10, 2000
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Just the facts:

Title: The Green Mile (1999)
Written by: Frank Darabont based on the novel by Stephen King
Directed by: Frank Darabont
Produced by: Frank Darabont, David Valdes
Edited by:
Director of Photography: David Tattersall
running time:

The Players: Tom Hanks, David Morse, Bonnie Hunt, Michael Clarke Duncan, James Cromwell, Michael Jeter, Graham Greene, Doug Hutchison, Sam Rockwell, Barry Pepper, Jeffrey DeMunn, Patricia Clarkson
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