Friday, January 15, 2010

Review - The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Director: Frank Darabont
Starring: Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton, Clancy Brown, Mark Rolston & James Whitmore
Screenplay: Frank Darabont

Adapted from Stephen King’s novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, the movie is about Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) who is sent to prison for a murder he didn’t commit. What follows is a story about life, friendship and hope all set in one of the harshest of environments; prison.

Upon release the movie tanked; it could have been due to the prison setting not really drawing an audience in, some have even suggested maybe the name might of confused people. But the genius of the movie could not be taken away. After the theatrical release the movie found a second life in video rentals and has now become a movie that is held up in high esteem.

As Andy Dufresne, Robbins is wonderful in the role that requires him to balance a cold restrained manner with an everlasting hope that can lead to some warm moments. A central part off Andy’s character is the friendship he starts with Ellis Boyd Redding (Morgan Freeman) commonly referred to as Red. This is a guy who knows a guy who can get a few things through some channels; his charm and smile hide a man who has come very cynical with the world. Both Robbins and Freeman compliment each other and their chemistry makes for a friendship that many people can hopefully relate to.

When it comes to the villains of the piece, wisely Darabont has made sure to highlight three different shades of darkness. Mark Rolston plays Bogs Diamond head of the Sisters, he represents an animalistic evil, a predator who is only interested in satiating his basic needs, and unfortunately the prey in this case is Andy. Captain Byron Hadley (Clancy Brown) is a monstrous force, feared by every prisoner he is the boogie man. His fits of rage are brutal yet what makes him scary are the few scenes that show a little humanity. Finally Warden Samuel Norton as played by Bob Gunton is the scheming villain, at first he seems to be just a hard man trying to keep order in his prison but at the half way mark of the film we start seeing a darker side. All the acting in the movie is pitch perfect and Darabont manages to give every actor their moment to shine.

Visually the movie is a mixture that encompasses sweeping camera shots to tight shots that emphasise the confinement of prison; yet while the movie has it tricks Darabont makes sure not to overdo it and lets the story drive the movie not the visuals. Probably the most interesting scene is right at the beginning when we first see the prison, like a bird flying over the building it’s a weird moment as there is a sense of freedom and probably the last sense of freedom in the film for a while.

At the core of the movie is the sense of duality; hope and cynicism, friendship and individuality, prison and freedom. Frank Darabont weaves it all together and creates richness in the movie; scenes that aren’t connected compliment each other. One of the movies more beautiful scenes is Andy resting on top of one of the prisons buildings after a hard days work, the sun shines down on him, he’s made a few friends and even though he’s in prison he’s free in his mind. Later on one of the Reds gang gets out of prison yet he can’t adjust to life outside, he has his freedom yet he’s very much still a prisoner. This is the beauty of The Shawshank Redemption it’s a very simple story yet it touches on some very important things. It can get very dark sometimes but that’s so it can highlight those brighter moments. It has a lot of questions for the audience yet at no time is it overwhelming.

I honestly can’t think of anything negative about this movie, it’s probably as close to perfect as any movie can be. While the journey might be dark at times there is a light that shines at the end of the tunnel. This is a feel good movie that gets you thinking but also wrapped up in the emotions of hope and friendship. All the elements lead to a very powerful movie that manager through word of mouth get a second life. If I could only recommend one movie to a person this would be it.

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