Directed By Frank Darabont
Starring – Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton
The Plot – The story of a hot-shot American banker Andrew Dufresne (Robbins) who finds himself to be an inmate at the Shawshank prison for a crime he says he didn’t commit, the murder of his wife and her lover. The movie revolves around Andy’s take on this drastic transformation, his journey as an inmate in the prison during which he befriends Red (Freeman), a fellow inmate as well as gains the respect of his friends.
Rated R for adult language and prison violence
– On-set location. Prison movies are all about atmosphere, so in casting the closed down Mansfield Reformatory to double as Shawshank, the film spared no expense in scale as the stomping ground for the story’s most dangerous criminals. What’s so perfect about this setting, aside from the gothic architecture that easily made the transition to 1947 that much easier, is the immense size that constantly reminds us of the hopelessness of the troubled souls inside, and it’s made much more impressive when you consider that absolutely nothing was a pre-constructed set. The prison itself feels very much like its own character inside of the movie, and one that took years for Andy Dufresne to overcome its concrete walls and corruption. In addition to this film borrowing the Mansfield Reformatory, other films like “Air Force One” and “Tango and Cash” also shot there, as well as music videos like Godsmack’s “Awake” and Lil Wayne’s “Go DJ”.
– Perfect casting. The requirements between Robbins and Freeman is perfectly defined, and works extremely well because their respective performances is a clashing of ideals that cater to audience balance. For Robbins, he’s the beacon of hope. Long after his incarceration, he still maintains the fire burning inside as an innocent man, and it’s his combination of blank canvas personality and endless wit that keep him sharp as a tack for being an ideal protagonist. In contrast, Freeman is the aging veteran inside of the prison. His decades spent locked up have molded him into a man who declares that hope is a dangerous thing, and it’s only in his introduction to Andy where this frame of mind is complicated, once Andy begins molding the prison as his own list of prided accomplishments. Bob Gunton as the evil warden also deserves a lot of credit, molding a character who borrows the parts from the bible that are appropriate to his questionable teachings. Gunton’s unflinching stare and total lack of personality give an intimidation factor that make this the perfect antagonist to deconstruct Andy’s hopeful circumstance, and it takes the work of an exceptional actor as an antagonist to counteract two intriguingly gifted protagonists, and with the trio of Robbins, Freeman, and Gunton, this film has no shortage of meaty performances, nor uniquely fascinating characters.
– Truth in advertising. When you consider the movie’s title: “The Shawshank Redemption” you might assume upon first viewing that the redemption is Andy’s or Red’s, but the title actually alludes to all of the dynamics inside of the prison. It’s a story about light overcoming darkness, as well as a good old-fashioned good defeating evil story. Before Andy entered Shawshank, it was a story of cycle’s and routine, mainly in the few who were freed, as they realized that surviving on the outside would be tougher than living behind the concrete walls, and because of such established a condemning mentality, where each of the inmates remained put because of this fear. It’s only after Andy’s guidance does the truth eventually begin to seep out and the light begin to seep in, with the truth and ulterior motives of the warden becoming evident to us the audience. So the redemption is really everyone’s associated with the film, as for better or worse Andy’s sentence to the prison changes everyone and everything, giving us the ultimate story about second chances motivating us to seek out the positives in undesirable situations.
– Passage of time. One extremely underrated accomplishment that is often overlooked in reviews I’ve seen is in the passing of time that authentically replicates the prison experience for us the audience. With no visual text or any kind of alluding to, other than the subtle aging make-up used on the cast, great strands of time literally float by in the film’s linear narrative, making it difficult to convey just how much time has passed between the film’s beginning and end that burns through two-and-a-half hours at a consecutive pace. What’s even more deceitful is the endless loop of consistent weather patterns outside of the prison that also offers no reprieve in difference to keep track of. This seems especially strange for a Maine setting, but feeds into the mentality that Darabont was going for, in that confinement really does cut out every other aspect of your life, feeling like one continuous loop that is indistinguishable from day to day.
– Positive life message. Perhaps my favorite aspect of the movie is its obvious intention, that with hard work and determination, there’s an escape from any adversity in our life. This comes in many different forms, some positive and some negative, but all with the same kind of reprieve from the daily darkness that secludes them. Consider Brooks’ freedom or Tommy’s studying for his high school diploma. Both aspects that end tragically, but both with a motivation to rid themselves of the despair that has defined them for a lifetime. In contrast to that, Andy and Red’s wishes are obvious ones: to be free. For one, it takes endless years of planning the proper escape, and for the other it’s decades of interpretation from prison officials that gains him the knowledge of understanding that he can’t be afraid to lose anything further. These are examples of men who grew tired with being patient, and took matters into their own hands, living by my favorite movie quote of all time, which is “Get busy living or get busy dying”, and it’s one of those rare messages that transcends the screen and stands as words of inspiration for an audience who inevitably have their own Shawshank’s to face every day.
– Darabont’s masterful direction. Despite this man creating modern day masterpieces like “The Green Mile” or “The Mist”, “The Shawshank Redemption” is easily his best film to date for how he absorbs the pages of this brief Stephen King story and fleshes out nearly two-and-a-half hours of endlessly compelling cinema. The decisions from Frank are articulate and influential all around. From his collaboration with arguably the best cinematographer working today in Roger Deakins, which brings forth an intoxicating atmosphere of decaying color effects that brought him the first of twelve Oscar nominations for Best Cinematography, to the indulgence of the world Frank creates within the prison, is something that completely sucks you in, and stands as that rare exception where even when all stories and subplots have been resolved and satisfied completely, you still don’t want to say goodbye to these characters. King trusts Darabont with his projects more than any other director, and despite this film winning no Oscars and being deemed a box office failure for its 18 million dollar intake, it has left a lasting impact to legions of fans, especially the website IMDB, which ranks it as the single greatest film of all time.
– Thomas Newman’s haunting musical score. Newman’s film drives this film almost as much as its characters, as his themes and articulate motif’s that he echoes throughout the entirety of this film are very powerful and very fitting to the complexion of each inspiring scene. It stands as the persistent note of conscience that lingers through the toxicity within this environment, made especially louder during the impactful final escape scene. I have seen this film thousands of times, but the triumphant scene where Andy stands in the swamp with his arms outstretched to the sky, complete with deafening orchestral accompanying, still sends goosebumps up my arms, and is the most satisfying of payoff’s that is emphasized even further because of Newman’s rhythmic pulse that alludes to Andy’s satisfaction. As far as movie scores go, this is one of the most underrated in cinema history, and speaks volumes to the scene where Andy describes that “Music is the one thing they can’t get to. It’s in here (points to heart)”.
– The big payoff. Prison escape movies are a dime a dozen anymore, but back in 1994 when this movie came on to the scene, it presented one of the more finely illustrated reveals in the history of cinema. So good in fact, that many films since have borrowed from its combination of shot compositions and constructive blueprint. When you consider that the whole movie shows us hints in the form of the objects that Andy asks for, then coyly deters the idea of escape by establishing how weak they would be when used for this capacity. On top of it, each object is given reason for it to be in Andy’s possession. Consider the rock hammer, and how he explains that he needs it to build the ultimate soapstone chess board. So when we cut to the third act when Andy vanishes in the middle of the night, we, like the warden, are left all the more clueless for how he evaded officials when he was spotted by them every step of the way. It comes as a result of years of planning, and made even more impressive when reviewed with the claustrophobic photography and patience associated in carrying out every step of the plan, making for an anxiety-ridden climax of the film whose extreme measures are grounded in satisfying realism.
– Respect for the source material. This is one of the rare exceptions where I feel that a film transcends the quality of the book, but even with that said, Darabont has enough influence from the literary material to remind audiences of its importance to the screenplay. One such instance happens when the prisoners are watching 1946’s “Gilda”, a film starring Rita Hayworth, and why that’s significant is because Stephen King’s original short story for “The Shawshank Redemption” is actually called “Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption”. Likewise, the very poster that Andy has in his cell that hides his route of escape goes from Marilyn Monroe and Raquel Welch in the book, to Rita Hayworth herself in the movie. The obvious reason to not include Welch is obvious, in that this film takes place in 1947, but the decision to rest on Rita falls solely as an homage to the source material, and it’s one of many that are woven conveniently throughout the film.
– One sign of a timeless film is the ability to watch it and gain some new form of knowledge that you didn’t pick up on in previous watches, and even my latest screening for this review brought forth some clever Easter eggs that I am witnessing for the first time. The first is Red’s cell number being 237, and for anyone who knows Stephen King material specifically, they know that this is the very same number that the Torrence family are asked to stay out of in Stephen King’s “The Shining”. The second is the judge’s name that sentences Andy early on in the film being Horton. What’s interesting about that is that there is a Judge Horton in the 1996 Stephen King film “Thinner”, and it’s aspects like these that make the Stephen King universe in his films feel like a living, breathing frame of continuity that continuously holds up, and really makes me want to go back and watch King’s films closer to draw even more parallels.
My Grade: 10/10 or A+ – My all time favorite movie