The Shawshank Redemption Review (1994)

I know only about 12 people haven’t seen this so this will be short… Unless I can’t contain my love for this film. Then it may be longer.

The Shawshank Redemption was an instant classic and quite the impressive debut from director Frank Darabont. Little was changed from the King novella “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption”.

The story was pretty near perfect and didn’t require any changes. The only true alteration in the film adaptation was the casting of Morgan Freeman as a prison inmate named Red, who in the book was described as Irish. I never would have thought that Easy Reader would have ended up in the joint, though.

The casting against type for Red was a stroke of genius. He brings modesty, humility, and a healthy dose of humor to the role. Freeman’s just a believable actor.

Tim Robbins’ is also perfect casting as the stoicly carefree Andy Dufresne. He’s clean cut, almost baby faced, thin and not what you would expect as a hardened criminal. He contrasts to the hard lined faces of his fellow inmates, a collection of brilliant character actors (along with Freeman).

This may be Robbins’ best role by a very wide margin (unless you’re counting his Howard The Duck performance. You weren’t? Okay).

Obviously ,most of the story takes place within the sprit breaking confines of a prison of the past. The film follows Red,  Dufresne and the other prison denizens through some 30 years. Hope in the face of trying circumstances is the main theme of the film. That and the redemption that the title speaks of.

Bob Gunton and Clancy Brown make for a couple of despicably enjoyable villains. Gunton gives a performance to rival the best onscreen villains as the diabolically hypocritical warden.  On one hand he quotes lines from the Bible to the prisoners. On the other, he…. well, see the movie.

I’ve always liked Brown  whether he was the villain or not. He is imposing here as the hardest of the prison guards, who was quick to issue punishment to any inmate that dared to speak out of turn.

William Sadler

The cast is strong from top to bottom. As I said there are some of the best character actors working on display.  My favorite would have to be the late James Whitmore who plays the pivotal role of lifer Brooks.

Outside of the two main characters, he’s probably the most important and I’m including the villains. Whitmore is one of the director’s ‘regulars’. Many of his others make appearances also, such as Jeffrey DeMunn, who briefly appears as the prosecuting attorney at the beginning of the film who sends Dufresne to prison. DeMunn has been in a number of great horror related films dating all the way back to 1986 in the original version (and only good one) of The Hitcher and the 1988 fantastic remake of The Blob.

Each of the actors, even those with smaller parts give the film an authentic film. You may not get their full stories, but you get their personalities with very little lines. Bill Sadler is the most prominent of the background prison populace, but they all add to an earthy realism that most films lack.

I say that, but the film is epic despite being confined to mostly one setting. It has big sweeping transcendent scenes (accompanied by the quietly dramatic score/soundtrack) right alongside all of the quiet moments that develop the characters.

DeMunn has been directed in all of his Stephen King related projects by the underrated Frank Darabont (Storm Of the Century, The Green Mile, Shawshank). Darabont does his best work to date in this. it’s astounding that this was a failure at the box office when it originally made its theatrical run. It had to find its audience on HBO, TBS and the video stores of the 90s. I guess it looked like just another a prison movie, despite pretty good reviews.

Cinematically its not the most aesthetically pulchritudinous film ever shot, but that may be because most of the film is in the muted greys and blues of prison life. That’s just an artistic choice I suppose. It does do the job of telling the story . The shots are set up and framed very well. The lighting is mindfully calculated as to take on religious tones, especially involving the central characters. The audience IS rewarded for taking the journey with some picturesque scenes towards the end, though.

The movie has many twists and turns, but all of them help the film work methodically to its resolution/point. Shawshank is writing of the the highest quality and the actors manage to take the material to grand heights. Poignant and uplifting this is by far one of the best movies of the 90s or any decade. King has written a great many classics, but this is also probably (for me) the best bit of writing that he’s ever done. A lot of his work rambles and meanders, not necessarily getting to the point. This is definitely atypical of his usual work.

The film is worth repeat viewings, if not outright demanding them. I can’t tell you how many time I’ve seen this one, but I’m sure it’s a bunch. great films never get old. The Shawshank Redemption is one of my favorite films. I think it has one of the best closing statements in any story or film ever written. Freeman’s delivery seems to maximize the eloquence. This gets my highest recommendation. Click here, to see where it ranks among my ‘Best of the 90s’ or here for the best films of 1994. 5 of 5 Whatevers…



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