THE GREEN MILE (1999) 

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Tom Hanks
David Morse
Michael Clarke Duncan
James Cromwell
Bonnie Hunt
Michael Jeter
Doug Hutchison
Sam Rockwell
Barry Pepper
Patricia Clarkson
Gary Sinise

Frank Darabont




Time: 180 mins.
Rating: R
Genre: History/Romance/Drama

Won Academy Award for Best Makeup. Nominations for Best Picture, Best Actress, Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, and Dramatic Score.

I have to start off by saying that I am not in favor of the fact that "serious" films have been getting longer and longer. Just because a movie is long does not mean that it has weight and meaning. TITANIC proved that. However, some films need to unfold slowly and carefully for their story to be told well and have impact on the audience. THE GREEN MILE is one of those movies. This is a unique and intricate story that has many layers. Remove any one of them and the fabric and the mood of the film would be diluted. Does it need to be 3 hours? Maybe not, but I couldn't think of any scenes I would have removed...and believe me, that's usually pretty easy for me to do. This is story that will have you so entranced you won't even think about looking at your watch. At least I didn't.

That being said, this is not a film for everyone. Though the message is a good one and the storytelling is suberb, it's not an easy subject. Prison dramas can be hard to sit through, though this one, like THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, is intelligent, uplifting and engaging. All due to the enormous talent of everyone involved and to the well-written and unusual screenplay. THE GREEN MILE is about what happens to a prison guard working death row in Louisianna in 1935. It's the height of the Great Depression and Paul Edgecomb (Hanks) is a man just trying to do his job, which is to keep the convicted criminals on his block quiet and alive until they're executed in the electric chair. Paul is a good man who tries to make his wards final days as pleasant as possible under the circumstances. Most of his co-workers agree with his way of doing business, but there's always one bad apple and in this case, it's Percy Wetmore. A cruel coward, Percy makes life on the Green Mile – the cell block's nickname – a difficult place to work for guards and prisoners alike.

"I guess sometimes the past just catches up with you, whether you want it to or not."

Things pretty much go along as normal – Paul tries to keep things running smoothly, Percy tries to exert his authority – until an enormous African American prisoner named John Coffey (Michael Duncan) arrives on the mile. He's been convicted of raping and murdering two little girls, but Paul believes he's innocent of the crime. Though massive in size, there doesn't seem to be a vicious bone in his body. Paul's suspicions are soon confirmed when Coffey "cures" him of a horrible physical ailment. Paul can't explain how this "miracle" happened, but it makes him more sure than ever that the system is going to execute the wrong man. He spends the rest of the film trying to keep this "child of God" from going to the chair. I'd like to get more into the plot, but there's so much that happens, I'm hard pressed to come up with a succint way of describing it. This is an incredibly intricate tale with many interwoven subplots. Needless to say, more miracles occur, true friendships are formed and justice is ultimately rendered.

What gives this film its' power are the performances given by Hanks, Michael Duncan, Doug Hutchison and Sam Rockwell. The good in the first two actors characters does battle with the pure evil of the two latter. If either outweighed the others, the film would be unbalanced. But the four of these men are perfect, giving subtle nuances to roles that could have easily been characitures. The basis of this story is not very original, but the way the characters are drawn and the plot unfolds is something to see. It made me want to read the novels, just so I could get deeper into the story and that is a rarity. The cinematography was also extremely well-done. It's hard to film the majority of a movie on one set and come up with interesting ways to make the location new and fresh. The fact that they accomplished this is a miracle in itself.

I'm sure there are many people who will not like this film, claiming it's too long and convoluted, but I'm not one of them. This is a heartfelt film that tells it's story quietly, without hitting you over the head with its message. It's core is simple, yet intelligently told. It may not be a perfect film, but at least it's striving to be.

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