#80 The Shawshank Redemption
(1994, Frank Darabont)
“Get busy living or get busy dying”
Here we go! One of the list’s major contenders for “the best movie of all time”. Frequently battling The Godfather for supremacy at the top of IMDb’s Top 250, this is a film that requires significant scrutiny. Remember, one major aspect of this blog is to really look at the greatest films of all time and see if they really deserve all that attention. And with Shawshank way up there, it’s going to require extra scrutiny.
It’s 1947, and Andy Dusfrene (Tim Robbins) has been sentenced to life in Shawshank prison in Maine (why yes, this is based on a Stephen King story, why do you ask?) for allegedly killing his wife. The film is an account of his experiences within the prison, and his friendship with Red (Morgan Freeman), a man who knows how to get things. Using his banking knowledge to befriend the guards, Dusfrene does everything he can to make prison life easier for himself, clinging to the hope that someday he’ll get out.
So, let’s start with the bad stuff. After all, I want to pick apart the film and criticise it, lower it down from its “one of the greatest movies ever” status. So what’s bad about it?
Um…well…Morgan Freeman doing voiceover for most of the movie is kind of a cliché. But he’s good at voiceovers, so that’s not all bad. OK, well, the guards can sometimes seem excessively mean, to the point of being caricatures. It’s also a little slow…but since the story is supposed to be representing the tedium of being locked away in prison for decades, I suppose that one can be let off too.
And that’s about it. OK, fine, The Shawshank Redemption is a fantastic movie. I loved every minute of it. As I said, yes, it’s slow, but it’s a good artistic choice. It never feels boring or drawn out. Every moment of the movie has its place. We genuinely feel the passage of time throughout the story, but it never keeps us waiting.
The performances are excellent. Morgan Freeman is excellent as always, making his character more than just a simple narrator of Dusfrene’s life in Shawshank, while Robbins manages to command a screen presence through a character that is largely unassuming and quiet. The rest of the support cast are also brilliant, all bringing a range of personalities to the screen. Even the performances from Clancy Brown as a sadistic guard and Bob Gunton as the corrupt prison warden are enjoyable despite their fairly one-dimensional characters.
But despite the flatness of their characters, it’s the friendship between Dusfrene and Red that makes up for it. As the central relationship of the movie, any slip-up here would have ruined everything, but Robbins and Freeman have a genuine chemistry and work off each other well. I cannot think of any real criticism in their joint performance.
In fact, this is the problem I’m having with this review. The movie is a brilliant exploration of the strength of the human spirit and the power of friendship in unlikely places. It’s certainly a movie that must be seen before you die. I really did look for flaws, but struggled to find any. Sure, it won’t really win over the kind of filmgoer who likes their explosions and car chases, but that’s hardly damning criticism.
What are you waiting for? Get busy watching this movie or get busy dying!
Starring Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton, William Sadler, Clancy Brown, Gil Bellows & James Whitmore
Written by Stephen King (short story – Rita Hayworth & The Shawshank Redemption) & Frank Darabont
Produced by Niki Marvin
Music score by Thomas Newman
Cinematography by Roger Deakins
Edited by Richard Francis-Bruce
Favourite Scene: When Dusfrene confronts the guards with a proposition to help him with his banking. It’s ballsy and it’s a victory for everyone, hard not to love it
Scene That Bugged Me: Wait, so, I get that Dusfrene escapes through a tunnel, but how did he replace the poster covering it, and for what purpose?
Watch it if: You wanna get busy livin’
Avoid it if: You plan on escaping from seeing it via a tunnel hidden behind a Rita Hayworth poster