John Coffery (Duncan) appears on death row every inch the murderer. But his huge presence is misleading as he proves himself not only a sensitive soul, but a man imbued by the power of God. When Coffery performs miraculous acts of healing, Edgecomb (Hanks) begins to beleive he is innocent. But is that enough to prevent Coffery from "Old Sparky" the electric chair?
Straight up, Frank Darabont is a "great" in the making. The story-is-God dedication that transformed The Shawshank Redemption into a modern classic is much in evidence in this lavish, confident fantasy drama, but he may be hamstringing himself with his dogged devotion to pop-horror guru Stephen King's prison-inspired output. The Green Mile impresses, shines, awes, jabs the heart at moments, but it is no Shawshank. King wrote the book as an experiment in serialised fiction - six even parts each cliffhangered to the next - and at a bot-busting three-plus hours, the movie feels like watching a whole mini-series in one sitting. There's certainly a lot of great stuff here. But be warned, youll need stamina.
Directing, Darabont was reputedly infuriatingly meticulous, every scene finessed with a Kubrick-esque repetition of takes in search of perfection. It has paid off. This slowburn 30s-set tale of a prison Death Row (the corridor, here lime green, is known as the mile) shaken by the arrival of a dim-witted giant (Clarke Duncan) accused of slaughtering two baby girls, is a paragon to expert detail.
The performances are subtle, the script (by Darabont) faithful to King's prose, the style elegant and poised and the big moments suitably grandiose. The crux of the matter is that the gentle seven-footer John Coffey has the miraculous, quasi-Holy power to heal. And heal he does, from narrator and Row boss Paul Edgecomb's (Hanks) graphic urinary infection, to pet mouse Mr. Jingles, squashed by the Rows bullyboy new recruit Percy Wetmore (Hutchison). All of which, combined with Coffey's ethereal view of what separates the good and bad, convinces the rattled Edgecomb that he must be innocent.
Over the epic running time the film inches its way through a complex soap opera of events on the Row, punctuated by three pivotal and grisly executions via "Old Sparky", the electric chair. And, a la Saving Private Ryan, the story is told care of a mysterious flashback framework. All of which works brilliantly. Yet, when denouements unravel and Coffey works his magic - marked by a freaky spewing of tiny black insects into the air - it is all far less staggering than the build up signals. In the main this is down to the sheer length - and so much of it superfluous - that patience is exhausted and drama dampened. There is also a lot less going on here than Darabont reckons, ostensibly boiling down to a simple take on the evil-that-men-do.
Polished it is, profound it ain't. A big, tasty meal that lacks the nourishment of Shawshank.It is harsh, though, to judge solely against such a startling debut and The Green Mile is about as accomplished a piece of storytelling as you'll come by. Morse, Clarke Duncan, Bonnie Hunt as Edgecomb's wife and, especially, Hutchison weave their own acting magic. Hanks everyman routine may have become so ingrained it virtually doesn't register, but you can't imagine the movie without him. And Darabont, the real star, is a director in a classic-tradition. Give him a story and he delivers a real movie. Time, though, to ditch King.
Polished it is, profound it ain't. A big, tasty meal that lacks the nourishment of Shawshank. Though it is unfair to judge it in Shwshank's wake alone as this is complete a piece of story telling as ever was.