The Green Mile
1999, R, 182 min. Directed by Frank Darabont. Starring Tom Hanks, David Morse, Michael Duncan, Bonnie Hunt, Graham Greene, Michael Jeter, James Cromwell, Doug Hutchison, Sam Rockwell, Barry Pepper, Harry Dean Stanton.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Dec. 10, 1999
Oh, the time and money we all could have saved had Frank Darabont hooked up with Stephen King long ago. The director who also helmed the film adaptation of King's The Shawshank Redemption (which garnered seven Academy Award nominations) actually began his film career, back in 1983, with a student-film version of King's short story The Woman in the Room, but it wasn't until Shawshank that he returned to work the fields of the author's fertile characterizations. Say what you will about Stephen King's prose abilities -- he's still one of the great American storytellers out there, capable of tremendously intimate characterizations even while he's busy making you gag on your Book Lite. Clearly, Darabont knows this well: All three of his King films have focused not on the author's more horrific exercises but instead on the vulnerable and gently realistic characters who populate his work. It's a trade-off that has served both men well, and continues with The Green Mile (first published as a series of six serial novelettes four years ago). It's 1935, and as the head correctional officer of E-Block -- death row -- at Louisiana's Cold Mountain Penitentiary, Paul Edgecomb (a beefed-up Hanks) wants only to keep his doomed charges calm and contained as they await their sad walk down “the green mile” (so-named due to the scuffed green linoleum that covers the floor) to their rendezvous with “Old Sparky.” A more decent, god-fearing jailer you're not likely to find, and Edgecomb's subordinates -- the bull-strong-but-compassionate Brutus “Brutal” Howell (Morse), old pro Harry Terwilliger (Jeffrey DeMunn), wet-behind-the-ears rookie Dean Stanton (Pepper), and the malicious, scheming nephew of the governor, Percy Wetmore (Hutchison) -- are taking things the only way they can, day by day. Then, the arrival of a towering black man accused of killing two little girls throws out every preconceived notion of justice, faith, and redemption behind the barred windows. John Coffey (Duncan) appears to be a gentle giant, so simple of mind that his only concern is whether or not there's a nightlight on E-Block -- he's more frightened of the dark than he is of the electric chair. Edgecomb, who is suffering from an excruciatingly painful urinary infection, immediately has his doubts about the man's guilt, but it's not until Coffey miraculously cures him of his troubles that he's convinced something else is at work on the Mile. At over three hours, there's far too much going on in Darabont's film to cover here; suffice it to say The Green Mile is a touching (and at times horrific) -- albeit overlong -- Christ allegory, that scores not so much on the strength of its convictions as it does on the truly remarkable performances it elicits from the cast. Hanks is in fine form, as is Sam Rockwell, as “Wild Bill” Wharton, a new inmate so repulsively evil he's almost a cartoon (not quite, though). As the pivotal Coffey, Duncan delivers an equally charged performance, but it's Darabont's show all the way, really. He manages to make a three-hour-plus period film set in Louisiana's death row and featuring a mouse, a mammoth, and a whole slew of miracles seem the obvious choice this crowded holiday season. Now that's what I call movie magic.