Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Movie Review: The Green Mile

In addition to picking up some light reading that the local bookstore and with Iowa Guru away for a couple days, I bought some movies that I think she wouldn't enjoy. Among those that I picked up was The Green Mile. I picked up The Green Mile because it starred Tom Hanks, because it was based on a book by Stephen King, and because I read that it had been nominated for Best Picture the year it was released. I'm not a big horror fan, but I'd recently viewed the movie version of King’s The Shawshank Redemption, and it made me realize that King could work outside the horror genre as well as having become the master within it. In addition, I recalled Stand By Me, another compelling King movie without elements of horror or the supernatural.

The Green Mile is a carefully told story with a number of different elements ranging from the humorous and lighthearted to the cruel, violent, and harsh. The setting is a death row in a Louisiana penitentiary in 1935. One could probably not think of a bleaker setting, but King ameliorates the situation by creating four of the most humane prison guards imaginable. The fifth, I assure you, is a sadistic bastard. Within this setting, King places the character, John Coffey, a huge African-American man, who becomes the Billy Budd figure in the film.

It's a long film with various subplots, elements of miraculous healing, and personifications of evil. But King and his adapting screenwriter-director, Frank Darabont, did not over power the film with elements of the miraculous or supernatural. Instead, they used these effects to highlight the very human dilemmas and characters that populate the film.

This is really a fine film. It's harsh, at times violent, at times cruel, but in the end, it's about humanity. In some ways it reminds me of the work of author Roald Dahl, who's given license with the fantastic because he writes for children. But the dilemmas and repercussions of what happens in Dahl’s The Witches, for instance, can be very troubling because of cruelty and bitter outcomes, but the sadder aspects are redeemed by the humanity of the characters and their heroic sacrifices. So it is with this particular work. For all the cruelty and harshness, for all of the moral dilemmas, it is an essentially redemptive theme that dominates the film.

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