“The Shawshank Redemption” Movie Review

If 2017 proved anything to us, it’s that people really love a good Stephen King adaptation. Now let’s travel back in time to a film that didn’t get the recognition it deserved until years later. This highly beloved prison drama from writer-director Frank Darabont was originally released on September 23rd, 1994. Despite receiving generally favorable reviews as well as 7 Academy Award nominations, the film only barely made back twice its $25 million budget. However, it became the most successful home media release of 1995 and has been re-run on cable T.V. endlessly. Legend has it that Darabont was able to purchase the rights for less than $10,000, but sat on it for nearly 5 years. The film finally came to fruition after a lengthy casting process was done, including some changes to the story that we’ll mention in a little bit. Based on the novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King, the 142 minute-long story follows Tim Robbins who plays Andy Dufresne, an intelligent banker who is wrongfully convicted for the murder of his wife and her lover. He is sentenced to life at the Shawshank State Penitentiary, where he is subject to the brutality of both sadistic prisoners and opportunistic guards. Soon, he befriends a fellow prisoner/contraband smuggler Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding, played by Morgan Freeman. Over the next two decades, they and a handful of others have to deal with various developments, such as the Warden’s money laundering scheme and struggle to hold onto the hope of making it to being free once more. How on Earth am I supposed to review a movie that is so obviously revered by many and has been reviewed/praised to death? Is there really anything left I can say that no one else has already added? I sincerely doubt it. Well, I’ll admit this much: in preparation for my new year’s resolution, there were two movies I had to erase from my “list of shame.” The Shawshank Redemption was one of those. And as with Terminator 2: Judgement Day last year, I feel like such an idiot for having waited so long to actually act on it. Frank Darabont may have gone on to other projects over the years- including The Green MileThe Mist, and The Walking Dead T.V. show -but this remains not only the best film of his career but one of the best ever made, period. The sad truth, however, is that this film’s beloved status came at the burgeoning as well as the growth of the Internet fanbase. More particularly, it currently stands as the highest rated film of all time on the website IMDb, followed closely only by The Godfather. But the inherent problem with that is that many people will suddenly want to play the contrarian and repeatedly call this film “overrated.” The only film that rivals it in that certain regard is Orson Welles’ feature, Citizen Kane. (Which I still haven’t seen) Don’t let any of those fools let you sway from the inevitable. While we could argue about how it ranks among the best, there’s no denying its beauty and power. Tim Robbins is excellent as Andy Dufresne, a man who is established as innocent from the get-go but still gets his life ruined. Despite the hellish nature of the prison, he’s highly resourceful and soon grows respect and admiration from his peers. A particular scene where he offers to handle a guard’s financial problems in exchange for the prisoners to get cold beer is a great example of this. Clancy Brown and Bob Gunton do great work as the pious Warden and captain of the prison guards, respectively. The two of them are incredibly unlikable, but both of these actors inject a certain humanity that makes you understand their positions, despite all of the abuse they use in their power. But the obvious scene-stealer is none other than Morgan Freeman as Red, perhaps the great prison character brought to the celluloid. Although he was originally written as a white Irishman in the novella, his race literally doesn’t matter here. Freeman’s natural, fundamentally human performances deservedly nabbed him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. It also (For better or worse) established him as the quintessential voice-over actor thanks to his brilliant and sometimes-haunted narration of the story. And although it deceptively looks like a simple picture, The Shawshank Redemption is also a great technical triumph. Ever the master of photography, this is arguably the film that launched Roger Deakins into stardom. Each shot feels meticulously crafted, helping to establish Deakins’ love of contrasting harsh, realistic lighting with beautiful shadows. It works both to capture the monotonous daily life of prison work and find the right emotion of each scene; dark shadows dominate moments of despair and sorrow while more light-hearted ones find a particular gleam of light. Meanwhile, Richard Francis-Bruce’s editing job is splendidly fluid with the natural progression of the plot. No period of time feels like it takes priority over the other, as age and time come at a steady pace throughout the story. One minute, we’re starting out in the 40’s. Next thing you know, we’re finishing off in the 1960’s just before America sends its men up to the Moon. Honestly, it’s a crime that Thomas Newman has yet to receive his Oscar for Best Original Score. Nowhere is that more especially tragic than for his score in this movie. Heavy on strings more than anything else, the soundtrack matches beautifully with each of the characters and their various arcs. The main theme features a gorgeous crescendo from an oboe into a full orchestral sound, which is paramount to establishing the tone of the film. It also works in swelling up emotions during particular sequences. This includes the final 10 minutes of the movie, which is one of the most powerful in 20th-century cinema. And yeah, from all the descriptions about prison and wrongful conviction, one might think that this film is a depressing, misery-laden wasteland of pessimism. Don’t be taken the wrong way. While it certainly doesn’t shy away from the darker aspects of incarceration- including an attempted prison rape -Frank Darabont ultimately tells the story to give the audience a sense of hope and wanting of freedom. Its entire message can be summed up in the tagline: Fear can hold you prisoner, Hope can set you free. Cheesy? Possibly. But the “feel-good” elements are nuanced enough to make me overlook that. The Shawshank Redemption is an incredible, uplifting triumph of pitch-perfect filmmaking. Of all of the Stephen King adaptations to ever come out, this has got to be my favorite. And I sincerely hope that it connects with everyone just as it did me. A timeless, phenomenal masterpiece.

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2 thoughts on ““The Shawshank Redemption” Movie Review

  1. Mr. Filmsomniac

    Thanks for the review. The Shawshank Redemption is in the Top3 of films ever made. The Godfather and Citizen Kane are not even in my top10. Actually, I think Citizen Kane is extremely overrated film. Stephen King was my first favourite writer and I started reading his books way too young. But, as is the case with most King fans, I don’t like most of the film adaptations. But, this one is a big exception. I don’t know if the reason is that I saw the film before I read the short novel. I like The Shawshank Redemption also because it is a quite different kind of story compared to most of the King’s works. And that might be the reason why it works so well as a film as well.

    Reply
    1. cadepb Post author

      Thanks for reading! King is also one of my favorite writers. His adaptations can usually be hit or miss for me, but it’s always nice to see that people still love him all these years later.

      Reply

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