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.

Soft-Boiled Detective: Robert Parker's The Professional

Sometimes there is nothing better than a serendipitous trip to the bookstore. With some additional reading time here in India, and with Iowa Guru away for a couple of days, I went back to the local chain bookstore to check it out in a leisurely fashion. I came across a couple of detective novels that caught my eye, one author whom I'd enjoyed before and one new one. This genre usually provides entertaining and quick reads with enough literary talent to keep you engaged if you pick carefully. On this occasion  I picked up one by Robert B. Park, the author I'd heard of but had never read before. I tried Parker's The Professional (a Spenser mystery). After reading only a couple of pages, I was hooked. 

The setup is a common one in classic American detective fiction. The opening scene as an ex-cop turned private eye, Spenser, sitting in his office waiting for someone to come in and lay a case on his desk. It happens right away, and the action moves quickly from there. Parker's  prose is concise, with most of the pages consisting of dialogue. The dialogue is snappy and literate in the best tradition of American detective fiction, similar to that found in one my favorites, the John Marshall Tanner series by Stephen H. Greenleaf.

But what really sets this Spenser book apart is that for all of his ability with his fists, his quick wit, and his knowledge of the underworld, Spenser is an awfully nice guy. More specifically, in contrast to his promiscuous and jaded clients in The Professional, Spenser is a man  who enjoys his mate  (although they're not so conventional as to have tied the knot). In fact, the dialogue and interaction between Spenser and his consort Susan, who is a Ph.D. psychologist, provides some of the most enjoyable  and distinctive scenes in the book. Spenser is a guy with dealing with all kinds of problems in a seedy world, but he's really a romantic softy around his honey (although the dialogue never turns from snappy to sappy).

So would I read another Spenser? Sure. You can imagine this guy you like to be around to enjoy the pleasure of his company as well as his adventures with the darker side.

P.S. Based on this character, A television series, Spenser: For Hire, ran in the mid-80's. I never saw it, so I don't know how well it translated onto the big screen.