Finishing off the slate of films vying for the 1999 Best Picture award was...
The Green Mile
(based on the novel by Stephen King)
Tom Hanks, David Morse, Bonnie Hunt, Michael Clarke Duncan, James Cromwell
A rare pairing of prison drama with supernatural thriller, The Green Mile is related in flashback by an elderly man recalling his years as a Death Row prison guard in Depression-era Louisiana. Whilst suffering a horrendous urinary tract infection, the young Paul Edgecomb (Hanks) oversees the arrival of a new inmate who is as simple-minded as he is thickset. Convicted of raping and murdering two young girls, John Coffey (Duncan) requests that the prison lights be kept on at night to alleviate his fear of the dark. After he cures Paul's painful peeing problem and follows that up by resurrecting a dead mouse, Paul begins to understand there is more to John than meets the eye.
The Green Mile begins and ends with a relatively slow pace and much of what is in between follows suit, but the film never feels slow. Rather, it is like a comfortable three-hour stroll through an interesting part of town. There are ups and downs, but there is always exactly the right amount of time to see each neighbourhood and you never linger longer than necessary. It travels well. Despite ample coverage of Tom Hanks urinating, which in theory should elicit cringes, the only genuinely uncomfortable scene involves a botched execution in which the electric chair occupant is literally set on fire. And even then, it is like the carnage you witness as you drive past a car accident. There's something so profoundly, instinctively fascinating that you simply can't look away. Throw in the image of a rundown prison building at night during a thunderstorm and the mood is complete.
Perhaps it was my Jewish upbringing, but I didn't notice the Christian parallels the first time I saw this a decade ago. A faith healer who feels the pain of other people and can take on that pain himself. And his name is John Coffey. J.C.? Get it? He even performs a resurrection. On a rodent, granted, but a resurrection nonetheless. Plus, his biggest advocate is a decent man named Paul. After that, the analogy seems to fall apart and, to be honest, I'm not quite certain I fully comprehend the purpose of it all anyway. I know that I enjoyed the story. Beyond that, you're on your own.
As is my usual practice, I'd like to list some of the standout performances from this picture. However, in this case, the list may turn out to include the entire ensemble cast. I'm aware I may have praised other casts as spectacular, but this time, I really mean it ... really. Tom Hanks is the only star name in the mix and I'm an admirer of his work. And his is not in any way a lacking performance, but it is the long list of career supporting actors that really shine in The Green Mile. As the other prison guards, we are presented with David Morse, Barry Pepper and Jeffrey DeMunn. All superbly subdued. There are stunning cameos from Gary Sinise, Graham Greene and Patricia Clarkson, as well as a hilarious turn by Harry Dean Stanton. Bonnie Hunt is solid as Paul's wife. James Cromwell is brilliantly layered as the warden. Doug Hutchison is particularly impressive as the weaselly Percy (whose name, pronounced with a Southern accent, sounds suspiciously like Pussy, which I suspect may be intentional). Then there are the inmates. Three fearless performances that are mesmerising to witness. Michael Clarke Duncan (pictured) imbues John with mystery and sympathy. Sam Rockwell unleashes the crazy as the bad-to-the-bone Wild Bill. And my favourite of them all, Michael Jeter, who portrays a different kind of crazy. A somewhat innocent crazy. Simply inspiring.
Like I said, a long list of names. Still, I would encourage you to search IMDb for all those actors and seek out anything in which they feature. Lastly, I'll just mention that, like fellow 1999 nominee The Cider House Rules, The Green Mile also references a previous Best Picture contender. The guards treat John to a private screening of 1935 nominee Top Hat.