The Green Mile

Directed by Frank Darabont
Starring: Tom Hanks, David Morse, Bonnie Hunt, Michael Duncan, James Cromwell, Michael Jeter, Doug Hutchison, Harry Dean Stanton
MPAA Rating: R for violence, language and some sex-related material.

Review by Matt Heffernan
December 11, 1999

Director Frank Darabont has had a truly unique career. His first feature film was 1994's The Shawshank Redemption. As you may remember, it was a prison movie based on a short story by Stephen King (and, in my opinion, should have beaten Forrest Gump for the Best Picture Oscar). Besides two TV movies in 1990, he directed a short film entitled The Woman in the Room in 1980, which was also based on a King story. Now he has made his second feature: yet another prison story based on a novel by King, originally published in six separate volumes.

In Louisiana in 1935, in the middle of the Great Depression, Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) runs Death Row at a state prison. Such places are often called "The Last Mile", but he calls it "The Green Mile", because of its painted floor and the way he chooses to run it. He tries to keep the condemned convicts at ease, so that they don't crack and cause any further violence. This philosophy is shared with fellow guard Brutus Howell, who, despite his nickname "Brutal", is just as gentle-natured.

A man named John Coffey (Michael Duncan) comes to The Mile one day. He is a gigantic man who was sentenced to death for the rape and murder of two young girls. This man is not a philistine, but a meek, simple soul who is actually afraid of the dark. Paul is deeply touched by John (in more ways than one), and believes he is innocent. The evidence against him, however, was quite damning, and Paul must execute him.

I don't want to give away much more than that. Just let me say that this is not merely a retread of Shawshank. It involves true miracles and sacrifice. The film is extremely moving, but does have two significant flaws. The first is it's length: about three hours and two reels too many. Second is what I call the Psycho ending. This is where a film ends with an unnecessary explanation, which only serves to drain its power. Hitchcock's film was able to transcend that, but Darabont is not so lucky.

The performances are really what's important with this film. Hanks might not see a third statuette, but it is solid work, on par with Saving Private Ryan. The real standouts are Duncan and Michael Jeter (an Emmy winner for "Evening Shade"), who plays inmate Eduard Delacroix. I could definitely see the Academy nominating both of them.

The Green Mile is also the kind of film that the Academy likes to give the Best Picture award. I did enjoy it, but it's not in the league of American Beauty or Being John Malkovich. It would be a shame if this film did win out of consolation for Shawshank's loss. For that matter, Gump shouldn't have beaten Pulp Fiction, either. Well, I guess I'll have to let the rest of this rant wait until the nominations come out.

For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
The Green Mile (1999)

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The Green Mile (1999) -- VHS
The Green Mile (1999) -- DVD
The Green Mile, a novel by Stephen King -- Paperback
The Green Mile, a novel by Stephen King -- Audio CD
The Green Mile, a novel by Stephen King -- Audio Cassette
The Green Mile: Soundtrack -- Compact Disc Home
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Review © 1999 Matt Heffernan