It is very difficult to criticize this movie. It's one of my favourites, so I wouldn't even want to try. But if you were being paid money specifically to criticize this particular film, the best you'd be able to do is find any little continuity errors you could, or stuff like that. It just all fits too well. The story, the script, the sound track, and the actors. It is insanely well cast. It's undoubtedly Tim Robbins' best performance, and the role of Red Redding fits Morgan Freeman to a tee (except for the fact that he was originally written as a redheaded irishman). The supporting cast is great as well, with many memorable characters. I won't flood you with names, but you'll recognize a bunch of them.

This is the only movie I've ever seen which is better than the book it is based on. Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption is one of four novellas in Stephen King's Different Seasons, which also includes The Body (Stand By Me), Apt Pupil (better than the movie), and The Breathing Method (strange). I read it last fall, and while it's good, I'd say the novella is only about half as cool as the film. The story is also different enough to warrant the name change. Anyways, definitetly see it before you read it.

In the theatres Shawshank was pretty much a bust. How the hell that happened I dinna ken, but there you go. The good voters at IMDb rate it as the second best movie ever, so I feel a little vindicated. You can pick up the DVD pretty cheaply (around $15 CAN) and I suggest you do if you like it.

I'm not going to bother writing a plot synopsis. If you've seen Shawshank, you already know; if you haven't, you should walk into it knowing nothing like I did.

For more of the same, try on Cool Hand Luke and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest for size.

I feel somewhat daunted attempting to write about this movie, but it is apparently up to me.

Released in 1994, it was adapted from a short story by horror novelist Stephen King, written in what ultimately represents the peak of his career - the short stories collected from the 1970's to 1980's. It was a charismatically written, functionally clever yarn which serves as a reminder that a specialist in disturbing imagery could be humbled enough by the everyday realities of an American prison, and all that it represents, to abandon fantasy.

This movie transformed the careers of both Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, who gave remarkable performances. It won 10 different kinds of awards, including a number of Oscar nominations (Best Actor - Freeman, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Original Score, Best Picture, Best Sound, and Best Screenplay).

It was scripted and directed by Frank Darabont - a man who, though he has been getting work consistently since the late 80's, has been involved with no other memorable movies, with the possible exception of his first writing job, Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors - an oddly interesting Freddie flick, and, for those unlucky enough to test the theory, the last one with any real pretensions to the inside of a movie theater. In 1999, he made a less memorable attempt to recapture his success with another prison movie (The Green Mile). Shawshank succeeds by virtue of his ability to subordinate his ego and focus his skills on executing the source material, which arrives on the screen almost completely untouched.

Typical of King's work, the story is set in Maine in the indeterminate middle part of the previous century. Atypically, it ends positively - King was not a writer afraid of an unhappy ending. It has the feel of something based on a true story, or a legend - perhaps it is a derivate work of something much older, or perhaps King did a stint of method writing and spent time in prison, or among former prisoners, doing research. A "writer's writer," in love with the drama of his career (writer's blocks, Chekhovian self-reference, and long rambling forwards), he was certainly capable of it. It is not a prison drama in the technical sense; it's a multifaceted story, lush with ideas and images, intellectually ambitious, and smartly paced, so that when it pauses, for a moment, we know it is to understand how long those we are watching wait. A long time - because the central image of the story is that of Robbins chiseling his way out of prison with a four inch rock hammer, one millimeter at a time, over decades of confinement.

The story is far too straightforward to demand interpretation; it never bludgeons us with symbols or pretensions to higher art. The prison is meant to be real, and taken as it is, and where credibility is blurred, it is done in the best manner of oral tradition, like a friend exaggerating a bizarre occurrence - too unusual not to be true. But of course the metaphor for the prison as life beckons, and when followed, it shows us a story with a kind of unassuming religious faith. Andy Dufresne is wrongfully accused of murdering his wife and her lover in flagrante delicto, a special class of crime (Anatomy of a Murder) in itself. Of course, everyone is guilty in prison. We know for certain he is at least guilty of wanting to do it, and in the revelation of guilt and humanity that allows him to leave the scene of the crime uncommitted to return home alone, throwing his gun in the river unused, he is guilty enough to be sentenced to life.

The prison ecosystem is brutal and Kafkaesque, both in the casual, inevitable depravity of its inhabitants and administrators, and in the scale of time that life must be suddenly measured in. Dufresne is like Jesus or Ghandi, but without the alien-ness of overweening faith. He works slowly and bravely to build the prison into the kind of place he can live in, resourcefully exploiting his skills, building a library, educating inmates, making a useful place for himself. The silent, persistent scraping at his cell wall becomes faith, which, in an astounding revelation, opens escape to a happier, glowing life after. The fantasy of escape, so powerful as to be dangerous, hints at darker truths about how good life on the outside really is - reminding us, perhaps, of childhood fantasies about adult life. The suicide of an aged inmate, just released after decades of imprisonment, is both a chilling indictment of the pretensions to rehabilitation that prisons, even today, sometimes aspire to, and an invocation of the fear of death, a place with no memory, where the lives that we have built have no significance.

I've recently studied this film for English, and just in case anyone else is studying, it, I've put up the quotes I wrote out from the film. I can't guarantee they're correct, as I did them in a bit of a hurry, but they should be. WARNING: For anybody who hasn't seen this film, the quotes may spoil the ending!

THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION

Director: Frank Darabont
Actors: Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman
Writer: Steven King, as the novella "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption"


OPENING SCENE:
Music: The Inkspots - "If I didn’t care"
Colour: Dark, night.
Actors: Tim Robbins as Andy Dufresne (young Vice-President of a large Portland bank)
Props: Car, alcohol bottle, gun, bullets
Scene: Andy is in car, drunk. Opens door, gets out, bullets are strewn on ground. To Court Scene, 1947


CHRONOLOGICAL QUOTES: (Themes emboldened)

  1. "particularly icy and remorseless young man... it chills my blood just to look at you"
  2. "serve two life sentences, back to back"
  3. "same old shit, different day"
    "I know how you feel, I’m up for rejection next week"
  4. "there must be a con like me in every prison in America. I’m the guy who can get it for you... damn near everything, within reason... yes sir, I’m a regular Sears and Roebuck"
  5. "who’s your horse?"
  6. "stiff breeze would blow him over... tall drink of water with a silver spoon up his ass"
  7. "rule number one - no blasphemy"
  8. "you eat when we say you eat, you shit when we say you shit, you piss when we say you piss... you got that?"
  9. "I believe in two things, discipline and the Bible. Here you’ll receive both. Put your faith in the Lord. Your arse belongs to me."
  10. "unhook ‘em"
  11. "when they put you in that cell, and those bars slam home, that’s when you know it’s for real, old life blown away in the blink of an eye, nothing but all the time in the world to think about it"
  12. "most new fish come close to madness the first night"
  13. "he never made a sound"
  14. "I’m gonna look after him until he’s big enough to fly"
  15. "it doesn’t fuckin’ matter what his name was, he’s dead"
  16. "Andy kept pretty much to himself at first. I guess he had a lot on his mind."
  17. "you think your shit smells sweeter than most"
  18. "’the sisters’ have taken quite a liking to you"
  19. "he had a quiet way about him, a walk and a talk that just wasn’t normal round here"
  20. "it would take a man about 600 years to tunnel under the walls with one of these"
  21. "I think he did it just to feel normal again, if only for a short while"
  22. "I’m the only guilty man in Shawshank"
  23. "what they did do was beat him within an inch of his life. Andy spent a month in the infirmary. Bogs spent a week in The Hole"
  24. "tossing cells was just an excuse. Truth is, the Warden wanted to size Andy up"
  25. "well, perhaps we can find something more befitting your education"
  26. "so Andy started writing a letter a week, just like he said"
  27. "the following April, Andy did tax returns for half the guards at Shawshank. The following year, he did them all, including the Warden’s"
  28. "he’s just institutionalised"
  29. "You’re free. You’re free."
  30. "Maybe I should buy me a gun, and rob the Foodway, so they’d send me home"
  31. "I don’t like it here. I’m tired of being afraid all the time. I’ve decided not to stay."
  32. "Andy got two weeks in The Hole for that little stunt."
  33. "there’s something inside that they can’t get to, that they can’t touch, it’s yours."
    "What are you talking about?"
    "Hope."
    "Hope. Let me tell you something, my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing"
  34. "there’s a river of dirty money running through this place"
  35. "I had to come to prison to be a crook"
  36. "a lawyer fucked me. Everybody’s innocent in here, don’t you know?"
  37. "prison time is slow time"
  38. "how can you be so obtuse?"
  39. "a month in solitary"
  40. "I’ll pull you out of that one-bunk Hilton, and cast you down with the Sodomites... you’ll think you got fucked by a train. And the library, gone. Sealed up brick by brick. We’ll have us a little book barbecue in the yard, you’ll be able to see the flames for miles, we’ll dance around it like wild Indians. You understand me? You catch my drift? Or am I being obtuse?"
  41. "my wife used to say I was a hard man to know, like a closed book... she was beautiful... God, I loved her, I just didn’t know how to show it... I killed her, Red, I didn’t pull the trigger, but I drove her away, and that’s why she died. Because of me, who I am"
  42. "you know what the Mexicans say about the Pacific? That it has no memory"
  43. "get busy living, or get busy dying"
  44. "man doesn’t vanish like a fart in the wind"
  45. "I remember thinking that it would take a man about 600 years to tunnel through the walls with it. Old Andy did it in less that 20"
  46. "geology is the study of pressure and time, that’s all it takes really... pressure and time. That, and a big goddam poster"
  47. "I guess after Tommy was killed, Andy decided he’d been here just about long enough"
  48. "Andy crawled to freedom through 500 yards of shit... just shy of half a mile
  49. "Andy Dufresne who crawled through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side"
  50. "Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies"
  51. "I hope I can make it across the border, I hope I‘ll see my friend and shake his hand, I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams... I hope..."


PLOT:
In this movie, the main character, Andy Dufresne (pronounced du-frane), a young vice-president of a large Portland bank, is convicted of "murdering" his wife and her lover. Andy is sentenced to two back-to-back life sentences for this horrific crime, and goes to the maximum security prison, Shawshank Prison. Here, sterotyped Warden and Captain of the Guard (Hadley) run a true Steven King horror scene. On the first night of his incarceration, one 'new fish' (newly arrived con) cries, and is beaten to death by Captain Hadley. To make matters worse, 'The Sisters', three homosexual inmates, take a liking to Andy, and make his life a living hell. Andy is quiet, an introvert, but slowly he makes friends in Shawshank. Ellis 'Red' Redding is the narrator and best friend of Andy in this film. Andy is soon caught up in prison life, and his only enjoyment comes out of talking to friends and carving stones with his contraband rock hammer, but one day the Warden asks Andy to start doing financial work in a money laundering scheme from income earnt by prison work gangs. Andy is caught up in prison intrigue, and becomes intrenched in a "river of dirty money". To quickly cut to the end, one night Andy disappears. After inspection, it is revealed that Andy has slowly over the years dug a tunnel through the walls using a tiny rock hammer, and has escaped to freedom. Using the fake papers from the money laundering scheme, Andy takes the money, and heads to Mexico to start a new life.

142 Minutes, rated R.

Good acting, cinematography, score, script... well, basically, it's a great 50's prison movie. Well worth a watch, and if you haven't seen it, it comes highly recommended by many people.

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