Image provided by fanpop.com, trailer courtesy of youtube.com
The 1999 Frank Darabont film, The Green Mile, sheds new light on everyday prison-life for both the prisoners and the guards. It has deeper emotion, more developed characters and looks at the relationships established between death-row inmates and the prison guards.
Other prison films such as Cool Hand Luke, The Last Castle and The Birdman of Alcatraz focus on the animosity and tension between prisoners and guards. The Green Mile, on the other hand actually shows the bond that forms.
One could say that this film is magical in more than one way – in a literal sense yes, but also in the way it shows good vs. evil, believers vs. non-believers and the idea of miracles and healing. It is very much a story by Stephen King. He always uses good vs. evil as a backdrop to his stories – The Stand, Storm of the Century..etc.
Set in a Louisiana State Penitentiary during the height of the Great Depression, death row supervisor Paul Edgecomb (Played by Tom Hanks) is a man of good nature, not the kind of guy you would expect to see as a Louisiana death row guard.
His staff, an equally competent and decent group of guards made up of David Morse as Brutus Howell, Barry Pepper as Dean Stanton and Jeffrey DeMunn as Harry Terwilliger. They are all men of decent humanity and morals, with the exception of the immature and vile Percy (Doug Hutchison) who, due to his family connections with the state government, could have any government job he wants but chooses to stay to have the ability to play god with the prisoner’s lives.
The film opens with the arrival of a new prisoner who, apart from being a African-American giant, is not what they expect. Being a Southern prison during a time when the Jim Crowe Laws were very much in effect, the prisoner, ironically named John Coffey (“like the drink, only not ‘spelt’ the same”) and played by the late Michael Clark Duncan, is a man living in fear. But not political or racial fear, instead, adolescent fears such as the dark and hurting other people’s feelings.
When John is brought onto the Green Mile, appropriately named due to the lime green floors of the last mile a prisoner will walk, the guards notice something unusual about him. Being convicted of the brutal rape and murder of two young white girls, John does not fit the profile for such heinous atrocities.
The Green Mile is the second prison film made by Frank Darabont and was created 5 years after the near-perfect Shawshank Redemption however, the films are very different from each other. The Green Mile incorporates paranormal aspects, the good kind of paranormal that is, not the type that leaves you afraid of the dark afterward. Instead of Aliens and ghosts, we get miracles and healing.
The summer this film was set in marks a very painful one for Paul. Not only is he suffering from a painful urinary tract infection but he must suffer through the reality of working alongside Percy. I can see no worse mixture of giving a gun and a decent amount of power to a man who wields them as if he is God himself.
What is so unusual about this film is the relationship formed between a white prison guard and a black convicted rapist and murderer. The usual part is that the relationship looks beyond the sentence and race.
Instead of Paul hating John for the supposed atrocities committed upon the “white man,” Paul looks beyond that and sees the man in John. A man that is so gentile and delicate that he cries if you yell at him. Paul even confronts John’s lawyer, Burt Hammersmith (played by Gary Sinise), due to his lack of belief in the crimes supposedly committed.
“Well, in many ways, a good mongrel dog is like a negro. You get to know it. Often, you get to love it. It is of no particular use, but you keep it around because you *think* it loves you. If you’re lucky, Mr. Edgecomb, you’ll never have to find out any different.”
Much of the film revolves around the bond the guards form with john, as well as the other inmates. The crude, yet harmless Frenchman, Eduard Delacroix (Michael Jeter) and the insidious Sam Wharton (Sam Rockwell). It was unusual for a group of white men to have such a strong bond with a black man in this time.
It isn’t until about an hour into this film that we start seeing the supernatural aspect. Describing it would be giving away the essence of the film, but i will tell you that if conveys a great deal of emotion, especially in the scenes involving Paul’s wife (Bonnie Hunt) and the warden’s wife (played by Patricia Clarkson).
What struck me the most about this film is lack of a black and white approach. The block looks nothing like ones seen in films such as Silence of the Lambs or even The Shawshank Redemption with rows of screaming and vile inmates. It is a place of, for the most part, peace and solitude where the prisoners can repent and make their peace with God.
The Green Mile, similar to what I have said in my other reviews, is one of those films that needs to long. If cut down, from three hours to two, it would a fragmented and underdeveloped slew of short stories. It needs to open and close properly, and to do so, it requires that extra hour.
The Green Mile leaves us feeling like we need or could watch more. This is, in my opinion, the key to a great film – one that we get lost into and one that could just keep going.