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The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

by on 2011/08/19

“These walls are funny. First you hate ‘em, then you get used to ‘em. After long enough, you get so you depend on ‘em.”

* * * * *

I think we need to coin ourselves an expression. Three times now, my DCR (Dear Co-Reviewer) and I have nearly come to a difficult end watching a Darabont effort.

Darabonted? Darabombarded? Darminated?

The first breakdown came in the wake of The Mist. The second threatened to rear its ugly head from the first moments of The Walking Dead. Third, and most recently, we literally had it out midway through the prison drama, The Shawshank Redemption.

Our goth’s contention this time was that the story’s originator, Stephen King, had gone too far. “Why does he have to talk about biting down?” she demanded to know. And she didn’t like that a guard said he had to go “pinch a loaf”. I also noticed the prisoners ate a lot of foods she hates.

In a huff she was gone — like a rat out of an aqueduct — and I finished it on my own.

I have to admit, though, I had my own reservations, almost two decades ago. I’d already read King’s “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption”. However, it wasn’t until the movie came out that I thought about pronunciation. “The Shawshank Redemption,” I’d say at the theatre, suddenly aware I’d developed a lisp. Like Peter in The Brady Bunch, imitating Humphrey Bogart (badly), I may as well have been ruining “pork chops and apple sauce” with a speech impediment.

I beat my insecurity and enjoyed it a great deal. If only I could say the same for Gru.

The poster might have you believe the picture is about a man in the rain. Actually, it begins in 1947, in Maine, with a wrongful conviction. Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins of High Fidelity) is sentenced to a double life sentence, essentially for not expressing remorse for something he didn’t do. In prison, he endures the early hazing with a distant self-confidence. He eventually meets an important friend, Ellis Redding, or “Red” (Morgan Freeman of Unforgiven).

Together, they spend the next twenty years talking, interacting with an ensemble of fellows, avoiding the most dangerous inmates, and improving themselves and their surroundings.

The entire cast is solid, including Gil Bellows, Clancy Brown (Highlander, Starship Troopers), Bob Gunton, William Sadler (Die Harder and Fallout: New Vegas), and veteran James Whitmore (Asphalt Jungle, Planet of the ApesThem).

The characters they portray are similarly solid, with little one-dimensionality. Bullying authority figures have their own complexities and, conversely, even the “good guys” have their personal tests and weakness. By the end, the lot of them felt like old acquaintances, and I simultaneously giggled and wept for them.

Touchstones of history provide a sense of time passing the prisoners by: the film they watch (Gilda), the posters on Andy’s cell wall (Rita Hayworth, Marilyn Monroe, and Raquel Welch), the Warden’s style of dress, the evolution of haircuts, and occasional glimpses into the world outside.

Issues of character, integrity, and even (re)integration . . . all of these aspects elevate Shawshank beyond many prison tales. The production is treated with a comparable respect. Long, slow sweeps of the camera lend an air of lyricism. A score of mournful orchestral strings lend it gravitas. Its piano solos lend it poignancy.

Finally, I’d be dead remiss to neglect Morgan Freeman’s voice. I’m not a fan of narration, but I need to exempt this man. His ability to conjure sympathy, warmth, and humour is damn near supernatural. His presence alone helps to catapult this feature into the hallowed “must see” halls.

In truth, were I to hear it described with words like “friendship” and “hope” and, well, “redemption”, I’d probably not be impressed. “Uplifting” is usually a corny cliche, and yet The Shawshank Redemption more than earns it, provided you’re actually open to feeling anything. (Yeah, I’m talking to you, Gothy.)

If ever there was a chick flick for guys, then this would be the one. I’ll refrain from coining a phrase for that.

* * * * *

Rated 14A (Canada) / R (United States)

142 minutes

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