Last night, Kat and I sat down to watch the last of the nominees from 1994's Best Picture contest...
The Shawshank Redemption
(based on the novella "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption" by Stephen King)
Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton, William Sadler, Clancy Brown, Gil Bellows, Mark Rolston, James Whitmore
In 1947, softly-spoken banker Andy Dufresne (Robbins) is convicted of the cold-blooded murder of his cheating wife and her country club lover. Despite his adamant claims of innocence, he is given a life sentence and shipped off to Shawshank prison, where he initially has trouble with a gang of sodomising bullies. Soon, he befriends fellow inmate Red (Freeman), known for his ability to smuggle in any item from the outside. Upon request, Red acquires a rock hammer for Andy, ostensibly so he can carve chess pieces. Thanks to his financial knowledge, Andy also gets in good with the prison guards, doing their taxes each year. This eventually leads the cruel and corrupt warden (Gunton) to utilise Andy's smarts to help him launder money.
I sincerely wish there were a way to forget about the story of The Shawshank Redemption in order that I may view the film again with fresh eyes. When you know they're coming, all those wonderful little surprises have the edge taken out of them just a tiny bit. However - and here's where this picture excels - even for those who are familiar with the plot's details, the sequences are executed so impeccably that the emotional manipulation is retained. I still found myself moved by the plight of long-term inmate Brooks when he is finally released. I still found myself shocked by the warden's heinous plan to subvert Andy's chances for a new trial. And I still found myself amused by Andy's final revenge.
It's a testament to Frank Darabont's script and direction that this stands as a rare example of a film that continues to be an enjoyable experience upon multiple viewings. In fact, perhaps it is because I have seen it a few times before that I felt as though as I was in safe hands. I realise that sounds a bit arty-farty, but I don't really know how else to explain it. There is a comfortable feeling as you watch the events unfold - as if you are being guided through this journey by a protector preventing you from any personal danger ... Okay, now I sound like an idiot, so let's move on...
Shawshank becomes yet another nominee from 1994 with brilliantly provocative music. The effective score is provided by Thomas Newman in his unmistakably haunting style - soft sustained strings overlayed with intoxicating piano chords. You may also recognise the inspirational end credits theme, which has since been borrowed for numerous film trailers.
Tim Robbins leads the cast with a mostly restrained portrayal of a frustrated man waiting for his moment. The always brilliant Morgan Freeman scored the only acting Oscar nomination for the film with a superbly amiable performance. The ensemble is filled out with an array of engaging character actors, including Bob Gunton delivering an elegantly evil turn as the warden, and James Whitmore supplying a great deal of the film's pathos as Brooks, the elderly inmate who doesn't want to leave.