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THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, 1994
Movie Reviews


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THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION MOVIE POSTER
THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, 1994
Movie Reviews

Directed by Frank Darabont
Starring: Tim Robbins and Morgan Freedman
Review by David D



SYNOPSIS:

Two imprisoned men bond over a number of years, finding solace and eventual redemption through acts of common decency. Based on a short story by Steven King

REVIEW:

Shawshank Redemption delivers on a promise: everyone deserves a second chance.

Based on a short story by Stephen King called "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption", the movie is about a human beingís struggle to find hope.

When Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is accused of murdering his ex-wife, he is imprisoned for a crime that he seemingly did not commit. For the majority of people, this would be enough to sap any sort of hope from their hearts. During the first night in prison, a grown man can be heard crying and after that, he is never heard from again. Andy is crushed by the defeat that comes from the injustice of his incarceration. He proclaims his innocence and yet is made to the pay the ultimate price of his freedom.

Shawshank was filmed in an unused Ohio state prison. It is a relic from the past; a rough hewn stone fortress. The dark walls never let the prisoners forget that they are locked inside. Inside the prison walls, the stone and bricks become are a character unto itself: repressive and crushing out salvation from those within. No outside light dares illuminate the dark 1930's halls. The prisonerís only reprieve is from the limited time they are allowed outside - a glimpse of the life they once had and a taste of freedom that is fleeting.

Andy survives on the inside of the prison because he believes that there is still hope. We see glimpses of this unwavering optimism throughout the movie. Making friends with another inmate, Red (Morgan Freeman), Andyís optimistic outlook gives others a chance to see that there is always something to live for.

Filmed in muted colours of a bleach by-pass (credit to cinematographer Roger Deakins), long before Steven Speilberg 's Saving Private Ryan, the lack of color speculates that life inside the prison is a paler shade of the outside world. Days and nights become one in the same. "On the outside" as the characters frequently call it, things are different; foreign and best forgotten.

Throughout the movie, Andy is typically viewed as the only innocent person at Shawshank

Where most prison movies focus on the art of escaping, director Frank Darabont brilliantly focuses instead on how the prisoners survive the daily drudgery. The friendships made in prison is as palpable as the walls themselves. The viewer is drawn into the lives of criminals and murderers, seeing them with all their acts stripped aside - as scared and lonely people. The redemption that Frank Darabont preaches isn't just about the characters in the movie, but how we view people that have done something terrible and wrong. He paints the unique picture that anybody can be saved, can be redeemed Ė only if they truly want to.

The movie clocks in a 2 hours and 22 minutes and feels a little long in parts. It has the requisite Stephen King homo-erotic imagery (I have read enough of his books to find this somewhat of a reoccurring theme), but little of the gore and blood splatter expected of the King of Horror. The final act, which the studio requested to be lengthened past the natural point of the book, does nothing to diminish its power, and in fact, is the final redemption and chapter in the men's lives.

The Shawshank prison is like a mirror of the outside world - complete with its backstabbing, honor, friendship, injustice and power struggles. Both the inside and outside world are sometimes cruel, sometimes cold and mostly unfair.

Tim Robbins puts in a respectable performance as Andy Dufresne, but it is Morgan Freeman and his gravelly voice that brings life to the barren walls of Shawshank. As an interesting note, we never hear the thoughts of Andy, but are only privy to the innermost thoughts and feelings of Red (Morgan Freeman). This narrative device frees up Darabont to keep Andy at armsí length - mysterious and unassuming. The audience views Andy as a man going through the motions, never realizing his goals or his dreams. The director only hints at Andyís feeling in the movie with subtle acts that prove that he hasnít given up hope. Through this narrative voice over, we only have Red's comments on Andy's state of mind to vouch for it, though. Although his ruminations refer to Andy, he speaks for all of humanity and the metaphors to life are ripe. Red knows that Andy doesn't belong in prison. He is an innocent victim trapped by circumstance. Andy wonít survive on the inside.

Darabont portrays a stark contrast between Andy and the other prisoners when James Whitmore is released from prison. The effect is neither euphoric nor satisfying. Andy once tells Red it is simply a matter of choice - "Get busy livin' or get busy dyin'". James Whitmore is faced with these words as he tries to cope with life outside of prison. As an audience, we are faced with the harder question of where reformed prisoners fit in to our society.

It is here that Darabont turns the prison genre on its ear. Murderers and burly men are reduced to scared and lost boys, wanting to return to the fold of prison life. Life outside the prison walls is strange, alien and ultimately scary. Men that are behind bars know that they deserve to be there - they have done wrong in the world and are paying the price. But Andy is not the way. We know that if Andy ever gets out of prison, it will be a like a caged bird that is finally free.

The last twenty minutes are a revelation. Full of charity, hope and of course, redemption. The final reel is expertly woven with slow-paced rhythm, imbued with friendship and above all, the idea that a second chance at life is something worth living for.


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