Classic Movie Review: The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Posted: July 28, 2013 in Drama
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In 1947, Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is convicted of killing his wife, and her golf-pro boyfriend, and sentenced to life in prison in the Shawshank prison in Maine.  He is almost immediately subjected to gang rapes by a group of prisoners called “The Sisters,” and this goes on for almost two years.  While tarring a roof in the prison, Andy offers tax advice to one of the guards.  The guards return the favor by buying Andy and the rest of the roof crew some beers, and taking care of  the Sisters for good.  Andy becomes friends with another lifer, named Red (Morgan Freeman) and asks Red to get a rock pick and a poster of Rita Hayworth, and he gets both.  Andy also starts to do taxes for all the guards and participates in laundering funds for Warden Norton (Bob Gunton)  Andy also writes letters to the Congress to fund the prison library, and not only gets a 500 dollar check from the Congress, but also eventually funding for a new library.

The librarian at the prison, Brooks Hadlin, (James Whitmore) is getting paroled from the prison, but he doesn’t want to leave, he’s been institutionalized and can’t make it in the outside world.  The parole board lets him out anyway, and Hadlin hangs himself.  In 1965, another prisoner named Tommy (Gil Bellows) comes to Shawshank prison.  Andy takes Tommy under his wing and tries to get Tommy his high school diploma.  Tommy has some important evidence about Andy’s case, does he get a chance to tell Warden Norton his story?  Does Andy go free?

The Shawshank Redemption is a great movie, similar in many ways to the Green Mile.  The same writer and director, Frank Darabont, are responsible for both movies and both movies are based on short stories by Stephen King.  There are no miracles in the Shawshank Redemption, as there are in the Green Mile, but it is an uplifting movie nonetheless, because it is about hope.  That hope is personified by Andy Dufresne, despite brutal torture at the hands of prisoners and guards alike, he brings hope to the prison, in the form of books and music, and he spreads that hope to the few friends he has made in the prison, Red and Tommy.

The acting is superb, most notably Robbins and Freeman.  Robbins believes with all his heart that he is not guilty, and he hopes that someone can prove that.  Robbins illustrates both hope and utter desperation in a deeply complex role, Andy is also extremely intelligent and uses all his wit, guile and knowledge to make his life as livable as possible while never giving up hope that he would one day leave the prison.  Freeman plays the opposite extreme, a man who knows he is guilty, but nonetheless thinks he has been rehabilitated.  But this movie owes its success to the ensemble cast, from Bob Gunton as a corrupt warden to Clancy Brown as a sadistic prison guard. From Gil Bellows to James Whitmore, this movie is truly a team effort.

The writing by Frank Darabont and his direction are excellent as well.  The viewer feels a sense of hope and roots for Andy, but the viewer is regularly and brutally reminded that this is a prison, and hopes come to prison to die.  The direction is excellent too, one shot really struck me, when Andy is first going into Shawshank, he looks up at the imposing walls outside the prison, and the camera shot is from his perspective, and the viewer senses Andy’s disbelief  that he is in prison, and disorientation at the imposing surroundings

This movie has something for everyone.  Watch it.

The Shawshank Redemption. Redeem yourself, by watching it.


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