The Shawshank Redemption
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A prominent banker unjustly convicted of murder spends many years in the Shawshank prison. He is befriended by a convict who knows the ropes and helps him to cope with the frightning realities of prison life.
When this popular prison drama was released in 1994, somecritics complained that the movie was too long (142 minutes) to sustain its story. Those complaints miss the point, because the passage of time is crucial to this story about patience, the squeaky wheels of justice, and the growth of a life-long friendship. Only when the film reaches its final, emotionally satisfying scene do you fully understand why writer-director Frank Darabont (adapting a novella by Stephen King) allows the story to unfold at its necessary pace, and the effect is dramatically rewarding. Tim Robbins plays a banker named Andy who's sent to Shawshank Prison on a murder charge, where he gets to know a life-term prisoner named Red (Morgan Freeman). Andy's calm, quiet exterior hides a great reserve of patience and fortitude, and Red comes to admire this mild-mannered man who first struck him as weak and unfit for prison life. So it is that The Shawshank Redemption builds considerable impact as a prison drama that defies the conventions of the genre (violence, brutality, riots) to illustrate its theme of faith, friendship, and survival. Nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Picture, Actor, and Screenplay, it's a remarkable film that signaled the arrival of a promising new filmmaker--a film that many movie lovers count among their all-time favorites. --Jeff Shannon
- Stills Gallery: Photos from director Frank Darabont's collection
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The culmination of this unusual rapport between Andy Dufresne and Red Redding ends with keeping a promise made to an old friend while never dreaming that it will come to be when it was made. The writing in a "half way" room scratched above a table just right for completing a suicide tells yet another story of the difference inspiration can make; one life ends in death because there is no hope, one life goes forward because of the bond between two - provided by only one. And the remembered phrase coming back to give him strength - "Get busy living, or get busy dying."
The visuals and audio during this finale are what make it so fine; more poignant than any dialogue. Determined to keep his promise to his friend made while in prison, (almost as a deathbed promise) Red goes to the fragrant hay fields of Buxton seeking the rock wall and what is buried beneath by Andy. As he descends from an old red farm truck that has given him a ride to the area, it as though he has entered another world, one tranquil and peaceful; gravel crunching under his feet as he walks in the hot summer sun; corn and hay fields, bird voices, dense green foliage; untroubled life and sound is everywhere; and at long last the old rock wall that holds his salvation buried there.
Tim Robbin's character had the worst luck of anyone in the world! He was at the crime scene but did not go into the room where his wife was cheating on him. He left bullets behind and then stupidly threw his gone into the river only to not have it be discovered. Had he kept his gun the ballistics would have proved that his gun was not the murder weapon. As it stands another killer did the murder and in essence got away with the crime. This led to Andy's (Robbin's Character) being convicted for a crime he did not commit.
I was amazed at the inner strength that Robbin's character Andy had. He was beaten, humiliated, raped and yet was able to still persevere without losing his mind. But that's what he had in abundance. He had a mind and he used it to outwit his enemies and friends too. In many ways his escape reminded me of the two fellows who escaped from prison a few months ago in New York. It was a tenacious desire to get one's freedom from the oppression of the Man! This is why I admired Tim Robbins and his character, Andy.
Redd was portrayed so well by Morgan Freeman that the story might just as well have been about him too. I'm glad that Tom Cruise and Harrison Ford were not cast in these roles. The film would have suffered I'm sure. But I will say this, the film might have done better at the box office had the title been different. Shawshank Redemption is not really a catchy title and may have turned women and some men off entirely to seeing the film. This is what at least one writer said. Despite this I give the film Four and a Half Stars. Leonard Maltin gave it Two and a Half out of Four Stars. I disagree with that but he may have been turned off by the length of the film.
The author Robert A. Berman in his fantastic book Fade In: The Screenwriting Process said something interesting. He said that he had read an article about films with bad titles. He said that almost every badly titled film did poorly at the box office. "The Shawshank Redemption, which did okay in theatres, might have done more business with a better title. I passed on seeing The Shawshank Redemption in the theatres. The title just turned me off." He went on to say that he saw it on Pay-For-View and liked it while adding that a good title can make a difference in box office sales. I concur with this observation. The title of this movie is nothing to write home about. This may have explained its average showing at the box office. Despite this, don't hold back from seeing this fine film. It's a true gem!
A. Nathaniel Wallace, Jr.
Caveats: The R-rating still applies, and the violence in the movie is palpable.