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Frank Darabont's second-best Stephen King prison adaptation gets a Blu-ray double-dip, but it looks like this one's just the same disc in different packaging....
Warner / 1999 / 188 Minutes / Rated R / Street Date: January 10, 2012
Say what you want about filmmaker Frank Darabont, but he has a lock on perhaps the smallest known subgenre in history: the Stephen King prison movie. For his sophomore film, Darabont chose King's highly-acclaimed prison drama The Green Mile, after previously bringing to the screen King's other highly-acclaimed prison drama The Shawshank Redemption. It is hard to recall another filmmaker who has earned such critical plaudits, near-hero worship by fans and Best Picture Academy Award nominations for only their first two films (especially films based on books written by a guy with penchants for pig blood and undead house pets).
When it was first announced that Darabont would be adapting The Green Mile, fans were overjoyed given the high regard that Shawshank continues to engender despite the surface similarities between the two stories. And when Tom Hanks was cast in the lead, all box office signs suddenly pointed to "mega hit." While Shawshank was, surprisingly, not the box office moneymaker most thought it deserved to be, The Green Mile promised to right that wrong. Indeed, the film grossed over $100 million at the box office, and finally we had another good King adaptation out of the seemingly thousands of mediocre ones (though I think we all agree that Maximum Overdrive missed a Best Picture nod by this much).
However, truth be told, there has been some debate over whether The Green Mile is as good as Shawshank, most notably due its running time. At over three hours, The Green Mile is not a quick watch, and admittedly the pacing does occasionally lapse into the laborious. Scenes are often drawn out near the breaking point, and the consistent sameness in tone often stunts the film's drama and suspense. Even some of the more horrific execution scenes and the late-night escape sequence are not quite as exciting as one would expect. While the film does have its humorous moments, it is also often too solemn for its own good, unlike Shawshank, which better balanced the oppressive prison setting with humor, pathos, and suspense.
But length issues aside, this is certainly the most faithful of King adaptations, and indeed it is almost word for word from the multi-part novel. Darabont has an obvious love for King's prose, and it is refreshing to find a filmmaker who doesn't bend to current tastes and short attention spans. Yet, this almost methodical obsession to stick so rigidly with King’s prose hampers any potential for narrative spontaneity. Yet the film has true emotional power. King's story also touches upon the controversial subject of capital punishment with an even hand and never belabors a point. The film and story are pretty much fair in their portrayal of all sides; the law enforcers, the criminals, the guilty, and the wrongly convicted are all represented here. There are no easy answers, and the film suggests that beyond a simple argument over right or wrong, good or evil, the real tragedy of capital punishment is the sorrow, despair and pain that the taking of a human life brings, "justified" or not. These are certainly unusual issues for a mainstream, proudly old-fashioned Hollywood motion picture to take on, and the film ultimately has something genuine to say.
Along with the writing, direction and impressive physical production, the acting is equally strong. While some may be sick of "American Everyman" Tom Hanks, he is unarguably perfectly cast. I was also impressed by Doug Hutchinson's suitably oily portrayal of the fey weasel Percy Wetmore and the underrated David Morse as Brutal. But perhaps the best performance in the film belongs to the very imposing Michael Clarke Duncan, who received an Academy Award nomination for his efforts. His personification of John Coffey is the heart of the film, and without a strong performance in that role, the film just wouldn't have worked.
Darabont had a terrific ensemble, and knew it. And that, as we all know, is half the battle.