The Shawshank Redemption
1994, R, 142 min. Directed by Frank Darabont. Starring Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton, William Sadler, Clancy Brown, Gil Bellows, James Whitmore.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Sept. 23, 1994
In the wild, rolling hills of central Maine stands the Shawshank maximum security prison, a brooding stone obscenity rising out of the deeply forested acres that surround it. It is here, in 1947, that a young introverted banker by the name of Andy Dufresne (Robbins) finds himself incarcerated after being convicted of the brutal murders of his wife and her golf-pro lover. In a place where the running joke is “everyone is innocent,” Andy Dufresne may be the only one who really is, thanks to his being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It's here that he meets Red (Freeman), a grizzled lifer with little hope of parole, and the man who “knows how to get things”: cigarettes, booze, girlie mags, whatnot. Overseen by the dictatorial Warden Norton (Gunton), a bible-thumping hypocrite with a taste for easy money, and his right hand thug Captain Hadley (Brown), the prison is a nightmare factory of midnight beatings, corrupt politics, and desperate hopelessness, where bull queers target the weak “new fish” -- like Andy -- and take what they want by force while the guards look away. Over the course of his life sentence, Andy and Red become close friends, helping each other out in various ways while coping with the deadeningly monotonous routine of prison life. Warden Norton eventually finds a use for Andy as well: Seeing as how Dufresne was a banker on the outside, the warden puts his talents to use on the inside, having him file tax returns and give financial advice to the guards and, over the course of the passing years, setting up a massive and intricate money-laundering machine that will eventually make millionaires of the warden and his cronies. Darabont's feature film debut is not only the best film yet adapted from a story by Stephen King, but also one of the best films to come out this year. Ostensibly a big-house story, the film deals more with the topics of personal dignity, friendship, and hope than anything else. Freeman and Robbins are literally perfect here and the supporting cast, from Sadler as the stammering inmate Heywood, to Gunton's Warden Norton are casting miracles. Darabont (who previously directed a short film based on King's “The Woman in the Room”) wisely sticks closely to King's riveting tale, sometimes lifting whole passages of dialogue from the novella, and keeps the story moving along at steady pace throughout its lengthy 142-minute running time. Along with production designer Terence Marsh (Lawrence of Arabia, Oliver), Darabont makes Shawshank into the archetypal hell few prison dramas can muster. It's the story, though, adapted by Darabont himself, that carries the film along. At times poignant, joyful, and terrifying, The Shawshank Redemption is an altogether brilliant movie and the debut of an equally brilliant director.