The Shawshank Redemption

1994, Movie, R, 142 mins


A "life-affirming" tale about life imprisonment, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION is the kind of old-fashioned entertainment that is easily overvalued in an era of diminishing expectations. This reverent adaptation of an unremarkable 1982 Stephen King novella was received tepidly at the box office--due in part to advertising that offered no clue as to what the movie was about--but gained a remarkably enthusiastic following and surprised many by netting seven Oscar nominations.

In mid-1940s Maine, banker Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is tried and convicted for the murder of his wife and her lover. He is sentenced to life at Shawshank prison, where he meets affable lifer Ellis Boyd "Red" Redding (Morgan Freeman), whose applications for parole are turned down on an annual basis. Known as one who can get things--for a price--Red secures for Andy a pinup of Rita Hayworth and a rock hammer to pursue his geological hobbies. Both items turn out to be crucial parts of a scheme that the mild-mannered banker nurses through years of painstaking preparation.

Whereas some Stephen King adapters have seemed intent on transcending or trashing their source material, writer-director Frank Darabont succeeds through fidelity to the text; the few deviations make this subdued male love story even more audience-friendly. The film benefits greatly from elegant cinematography by Roger Deakins and a poignant score by Thomas Newman. Freeman creates an endearing portrait of a decent man with a dark deed in his past, and Tim Robbins gives what may be his most accomplished portrayal. The excellent supporting cast includes James Whitmore, cute as the dickens as old-timer Brooks Hatlen, and William Sadler as a con who starts out scary and ends up lovable.

Which brings us to the film's greatest limitation: prison hasn't looked this inviting since 1940s Hollywood. Nothing seems to build character like a long stint at Shawshank, which on the whole seems not much worse than a downmarket summer camp. This makes for a crowd-pleasing story that has little to do with the messy complexities of reality. leave a comment

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