Overview: Tim Robbins stars as Andy Dufresne, a man wrongly convicted of murdering his wife and her lover, subsequently spending decades in a Maine prison. Castle Rock Entertainment; Rated R; 142 Minutes.
Everyone’s Favorite Movie: Frank Darabont brings a learned, disciplined hand to this adaptation of the Stephen King short story “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” and his first intelligent move was shortening the title. Darabont is a student of the classics and his breakthrough masterpiece is evidence of that. There is an old-school influence at work here, with the movies’ narrow and simplified morality, its black-and-white presentation of the good guys vs. the bad guys (Clancy Brown is the perfect watchful presence in this movie), the endearing bond developed between Andy (Tim Robbins) and Red (played by Morgan Freeman, who also ****SPOILER***** lends the film its voiceover ****End Spoiler****), and our handsome boyish clean-cut protagonist who, daggone it, does not deserve this.
The Punctuation of an Iconic Climax: The first two acts are a subdued and polite manifestation of torture porn. Maybe not of the Saw/Hostel variety, but when a James Dean stand-in comes into Shawshank with information that could free Andy, only to be mercilessly shot down in a murder arranged by the Warden, there is no other way to view it. The despair only enhances the movie’s lasting influence and zealous admiration, which I attribute to its having one of the most satisfying conclusions ever written. We watch Andy pushed deeper and deeper into and abysmal pit (figurative and literal) only to eventually get every single thing we want, from freedom to revenge. (Sidenote: the look on the Warden’s face when the poster comes down should have earned Bob Gunton an honorary Oscar). This conclusion is punctuated by a climactic and iconic sequence arranged by legendary cinematographer and Coen-darling Roger Deakins. Deakins’ eye is steady throughout, but divine in the closing act. The overhead, sky-cam angle is counterintuitive to the cinematography standard (normally, pointing a camera over a character presents that characters as less powerful, vulnerable), but Deakins has never been standard, and here, his intuition pays off. Looking down on Dufresne, we see him stand in a world without walls. This is an image of freedom.
A Note of Personal Reaction: No matter how many times I watch this film, it wins me over by its conclusion. Every single time. My critical eye twitches, trying to understand why the wandering sideplots, borderline melodrama, and Morgan Freeman’s impractical final appeal for parole don’t dilute the final product. But when Dufresne stands outside prison grounds, holding a Scott Stapp pose in the downpour, I am moved, trembling, inspired. In trying to comprehend what that moment must feel like for Andy, my unadulterated movie-going joy wins out over my inner-critic.
I Hope My Mother Never Reads This: This is not the greatest movie of all time. For years, it has been the most highly rated and popular film on IMDb and it’s easy to see why. Shawshank Redemption hits its notes. It is entertaining, memorable, and as satisfying as any movie you will ever watch. But it scores so high because it takes no risks and does nothing new, just walks confidently and gracefully in the established and proven footprints of the greats before it.
Grade: B +
Extra Trivia: In 1994, Shawshank Redemption, Pulp Fiction, and Forrest Gump were all showing in theaters at the same time. A mini-golden era. If you could only purchase one ticket…