The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION is one of the most faithful Stephen King
adaptations to date and that's only partial good news for viewers of
this pleasing prison pic.  Taken from the short novel "Rita Hayworth and
the Shawshank Redemption," the film recounts the 20-year friendship
between two "lifers" (Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman) and how that
relationship changes both each other and the entire prison community.

True to tradition, every calaboose cliche is present and accounted for:
the sadistic "screw" (Clancy Brown), the Warden From Hell (Bob Gunton),
and the bad-but-not-too-bad cons (William Sadler and Gil Bellows, among
others).  But don't hold your breath for any action-- a rape is the most
jailhouse rock you'll see here.

Too bad, then, that writer/director Frank Darabont never gets a firm
hold on his hoosegow.  Just as King occasionally overwrites, Darabont
occasionally "overfilms." Simply, he lets too many scenes run too long.

(Oh, what a Coen brother could've done here!)

Darabont's eye is fine, though, and the prison-- a condemned facility in
Ohio-- looks as sharp as any stir seen before.  Strange, then, that the
film never feels as lived-in as it looks.

One problem is Tim Robbins, too bland for the soft-spoken role of a
banker who was convicted of killing his wife and her lover.  His
character has neither sides nor edge; he's Forrest Gump with a brain.
Mainstream audiences won't mind, though-- they'll cry just as much as
they did in that other film.  Sigh.

Morgan Freeman, on the other hand, excels beyond expectations as the
prison "fixer." Jeez, when did he get so good?  Too bad the script
shortchanges him by never elaborating enough on his character.

Other cast members include Clancy Brown (remember HIGHLANDER?), James
Whitmore (last seen going NUTS), and veteran stage actor Bob Gunton as
the religious warden whose first rule is "no blasphemy." Gunton once
played Professor Harold Hill and that's pretty funny until you recall
William Sadler's previous role as Death in BILL AND TED'S BOGUS JOURNEY.
Excellent.  (Rated "R"/144 min.)

BABY GO HOME:  Gripes to the management of General Cinema at Pleasant
Valley, who were unwilling to handle a "screaming baby" situation, even
after complaints from the audience.

BOTTOM LINE:  Dialogue-driven crowd-pleaser that's good for almost
anyone.  Suckers for a prison pic or a Stephen King story should find
themselves in seventh heaven.

Grade: B

Copyright 1994 by Michael J. Legeros

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