Monday, March 11, 2013
RECENTLY VIEWED: THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION
Adapted from the Stephen King novella "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption", the film tells the story of Andy Dufresne, a banker who spends nearly two decades in Shawshank State Prison for the murder of his wife and her lover despite his claims of innocence. During his time at the prison, he befriends a fellow inmate, Ellis Boyd "Red" Redding, and finds himself protected by the guards after the warden begins using him in his money laundering operation. Despite a lukewarm box office reception that barely recouped its budget, the film received favorable reviews from critics, multiple award nominations, and has since enjoyed a remarkable life on cable television, VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray.
Directed by Frank Darabont, he secured the film adaptation rights from author Stephen King after impressing the author with his short film adaptation of The Woman in the Room in 1983. Although the two had become friends and maintained a pen-pal relationship, Darabont did not work with him until four years later in 1987, when he optioned to adapt Shawshank. This is one of the more famous Dollar Deals made by King with aspiring filmmakers. Darabont later directed The Green Mile (1999), which was based on another work about a prison by Stephen King, and then followed that up with an adaptation of King's novella The Mist. Rob Reiner, who had previously adapted another King novella, The Body, into the movie Stand by Me (1986), offered $2.5 million in an attempt to write and direct Shawshank. He planned to cast Tom Cruise in the part of Andy and Harrison Ford as Red. Darabont seriously considered and liked Reiner's vision, but he ultimately decided it was his "chance to do something really great" by directing the film himself.
In 1947, banker Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is convicted of murdering his wife and her lover, based on circumstantial evidence, and is sentenced to two consecutive life sentences at Shawshank State Penitentiary. Andy quickly befriends contraband smuggler Ellis "Red" Redding (Morgan Freeman), an inmate serving a life sentence. Red procures a rock hammer for Andy, allowing him to create small stone chess pieces. Red later gets him a large poster of Rita Hayworth, followed in later years by images of Marilyn Monroe and Raquel Welch. Andy works in the prison laundry, but is regularly assaulted by the "bull queer" gang "the Sisters" and their leader Bogs (Mark Rolston).
In 1949, Andy overhears the brutal chief guard Byron Hadley (Clancy Brown) complaining about taxes on a forthcoming inheritance, and informs him about a financial loophole. After another vicious assault by the Sisters nearly kills Andy, Bogs is beaten and crippled by Hadley. Bogs is sent to another prison and Andy is not attacked again. Warden Samuel Norton (Bob Gunton) meets with Andy and reassigns him to the prison library, to assist elderly inmate Brooks Hatlen (James Whitmore); a pretext for Andy to manage financial duties for the prison. His advice and expertise are soon sought by other guards at Shawshank and from nearby prisons. Andy begins writing weekly letters to the state government for funds to improve the decrepit library.
In 1954, Brooks is freed on parole, but unable to adjust to the outside world after 50 years in prison, he hangs himself. Andy receives a library donation that includes a recording of The Marriage of Figaro. He plays an excerpt over the public address system, resulting in his receiving solitary confinement. After his release, Andy explains that he holds onto hope as something that the prison cannot take from him, but Red dismisses the idea. In 1963, Norton begins exploiting prison labor for public works, profiting by undercutting skilled labor costs and receiving kickbacks. He has Andy launder the money using the alias "Randall Stephens".
In 1965, Tommy Williams (Gil Bellows) is incarcerated for robbery. He joins Andy and Red's circle of friends, and Andy helps him to pass his General Educational Development examinations. In 1966, after hearing the details of Andy's case, Tommy reveals that an inmate at another prison claimed responsibility for an identical murder, suggesting Andy's innocence. Andy approaches Norton with this information, but the warden refuses to listen. Norton places Andy in solitary confinement and has Tommy murdered by Hadley under the guise of an escape attempt. Andy refuses to continue with the scam, but Norton threatens to destroy the library and take away his protection and preferential treatment. After Andy is released from solitary confinement, he tells Red of his dream of living in Zihuatanejo, a Mexican Pacific coastal town. While Red shrugs it off as being unrealistic, Andy instructs him, should he ever be freed, to visit a specific hayfield near Buxton to retrieve a package.
The next day at roll call, on finding Andy's cell empty, an irate Norton throws one of Andy's rocks at the poster of Raquel Welch hanging on the wall. The rock tears through the poster, revealing a tunnel that Andy had dug with his rock hammer over the previous two decades. The previous night, Andy escaped through the tunnel and the prison's sewage pipe with Norton's ledger, containing details of the money laundering. While guards search for him the following morning, Andy, posing as Randall Stephens, visits several banks to withdraw the laundered money. Finally, he sends the ledger and evidence of the corruption and murders at Shawshank to a local newspaper. The police arrive at Shawshank and take Hadley into custody, while Norton commits suicide to avoid arrest.
After serving 40 years, Red receives parole. He struggles to adapt to life outside prison and fears he never will. Remembering his promise to Andy, he visits Buxton and finds a cache containing money and a letter, asking him to come to Zihuatanejo. Red violates his parole and travels to Fort Hancock, Texas to cross the border to Mexico, admitting he finally feels hope. On a beach in Zihuatanejo, he finds Andy, and the two friends are happily reunited.
The cast is excellent from Tim Robbins to Morgan Freeman - I can not picture anyone else playing their roles. Jame Whitmore also was great as the aging prison inmate. Another great role in the film was Warden Samuel Norton. Character actor Bob Gunton was perfect as the corrupt warden. I first noticed him when I saw the mini-series Sinatra, and he played bandleader Tommy Dorsey perfectly. I never read the Stephen King book, but I can not picture it being better than this movie, and this is rare. It is amazing that a movie about prisioners and the jail system in the 1940s and 1950s can tug at your heart strings, but this film does. I love King's horror novels, but I have to say I would love for him to write more sentimental books like "The Shawshank Redemption". Hollywood has a history of not getting movies right that they take from a book, but in this case, they certainly did...
MY RATING: 10 OUT OF 10