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From the April 2000
Film Review

Film Review Hotline
4 Stars
Michael Clarke Duncan and his gaolers
Shock treatment
STARS: Tom Hanks, David Morse, Bonnie Hunt, Michael Clarke Duncan, James Cromwell, Michael Jeter, Graham Greene, Doug Hutchison, Sam Rockwell, Barry Pepper
DIRECTOR: Frank Darabont
SCREENPLAY: Frank Darabont
CERTIFICATE: 18DISTRIBUTOR and Picture copyright: UIP
RUNNING TIME: 3hrs 09mins
OPENING DATE (UK): February 25 (London)
March 3 (Nationwide)

Frank Darabont is a very brave man. Condemned to a film life sentence of ‘It isn’t as good as The Shawshank Redemption’ criticisms, he’s not taken the easy option with his follow-up movie – another Stephen King prison tale. And while The Green Mile– here we go – isn’t as good as The Shawshank Redemption, it has sublime acting and artistic credentials, plus an extraordinary execution-gone-wrong so disturbing that you may want to exit the cinema and walk around for a while.

No, that running time isn’t a typo. Based closely upon Stephen King’s 1996 six-part ‘serial novel’ (a first for an author of his clout), The Green Mile is a small epic detailing the 1935 memories of an old man, once a Death Row prison officer in a Southern jail. Tom Hanks – delivering yet another Oscar calibre performance – is Paul Edgecomb, who oversees the small line of cells reserved for condemned men. Almost like a Steadicam-assisted ‘fly on the wall’ documentary, the film explores every detail of the guards’ daily lives and their relationships with a trio of inmates, including the mountainous John Coffey (Duncan), a seemingly gentle giant who is accused of murdering two young girls.

The first hour is surprisingly low-key and you begin to wonder where it’s headed, as so much screen time elaborates on minor details – the hunt for a mouse that’s seen scurrying around, Edgecomb’s unfortunate urinary infection, the elaborate rehearsal for what seems to be a straightforward electrocution. These incidents are frequently funny and never lacking in interest, but where’s the fireworks? Then, almost out of nowhere, cogs start clicking into place and King and Darabont drop bombshell number one: Coffey can perform miracles.

The Green Mile is a rarity – a film that actually unfolds like a novel. The film’s primary motivation is not relentlessly driving the plot forward, but getting to know and growing to respect, love and hate these characters. It pays off thanks to sure-footed direction, a fine script and excellent work from everyone, with special mention to Hanks, Duncan and Hutchison as a sadistic guard who’s just begging for a major comeuppance.

If the film has any flaws, then it would definitely have benefited from being shorn of 30 minutes (the modern day, Titanic-style book ends aren’t necessary) and Darabont’s staging of Duncan’s gift is disappointingly Hollywoody. But, these are minor quibbles in a film that – rather like Darabont’s previous prison movie – spins a highly engaging, old-fashioned yarn that leaves no human emotion untapped.

Jason Caro

Read our massive reviews section in this month's Film Review
Reviews © Visual Imagination Ltd 2000. Not for reproduction.

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Also reviewed online this month:
4 Stars
THE INSIDER • released February 25


5 Stars
Tumbleweeds • March 3
The Long Good Friday • March 3
Magnolia • March 17
Being John Malkovich • March 17
In All Innocence • March 17
A Matter of Life and Death • March 24

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Show Me Love (F***king Amal)March 3
Three Kings • March 3
Whatever Happened to Harold
Smith? • March 10
Broken Vessels • March 24
Les Convoyeurs Attendent
(The Carriers Are Waiting)March 31