Saturday, October 9, 2010

1994 - The Shawshank Redemption

Last chance to vote on the next year of review for Matt vs. the Academy. The poll is in the panel over to the right. Since there is currently a tie, there is rather a good chance that the next person to vote will single-handedly decide the result. Unless, of course, that person creates a three-way tie, but let's not put ideas into his head.

Last night, Kat and I sat down to watch the last of the nominees from 1994's Best Picture contest...

The Shawshank Redemption
Frank Darabont
Frank Darabont
(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
Academy Awards:
7 nominations
0 wins

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.


  1. Should've won, although IMDB is wrong about it being the #1 film ever.

  2. Stephen King's book Different Seasons contained four novellas, three of which were made into movies. Of these two can be considered at or near the top of all King's film adaptations, Stand by Me and The Shawshank Redemption. With Shawshank, Frank Darabont has tapped into the humanity of King's story, and cranked out an old-fashioned, beautifully shot and acted film. Tim Robbins captured the ethereal, brainy qualities of Andy Durfresne and the mellifluous voiced Morgan Freeman did wonders as the narrator and witness to the events at Shawshank. The movie is also helped immensely by Roger Deakins moody and palpable cinematography.

    A prison feature, by its very nature is prone to cliched characters and situations, and Shawshank doesn't 'escape' them completely. However, by keeping the focus closely on Andy and Red, it is easier to overlook scenarios like the gang of fun loving prisoners eating lunch together over a twenty year period. The movie is a bit on the long side and occasionally it sounds written rather than spoken. (I can accept Morgan Freeman using words like magnanimous more than his character Red). There is hardly a misstep though and it sure has an uplifting conclusion. It may be a little hard to believe, but it is a movie and does what good movies should; absorb, enlighten and entertain.