This is an example of a heartwarming R. Oh, it needs to be R. It should forever be "R". But it's one of those R's that you watch with your mom. There's some disturbing stuff in the movie, but doesn't it just warm your soul like an electric chair without a sponge would?
DIRECTOR: Frank Darabont
This, somehow, became the summer of Stephen King. I really didn't want it to be. I bought A Farewell to Arms and As I Lay Dying, saying I was going to fill my mind with great classics that I'll eventually teach. Then I found out that The Dark Tower movie was going to be a sequel to all of the books, so I've been nonstop reading The Dark Tower books. Those things are tanks. My brain is now really wired to Stephen King. (I'm also listening to the audiobook of 'Salem's Lot because apparently Book 5 of The Dark Tower is a crossover with that one.) How did I get to The Green Mile in terms of film? We have Showtime free for three months and I realized I never saw this one. Since I'm on this Stephen King bender, I thought now was as good a time as any.
The way I understand it is that Stephen King released a series of novellas about The Green Mile. The movie, I suppose, is an adaptation of the entire collection of those short books. It kind of weirdly works. The story does feel like it is a series of scenes all involving the same characters that does, quite masterfully I might add, connect together into one giant arc. I have mixed feelings about Frank Darabont, though. Darabont is a genius and I can't deny that. Some of his framing in The Shawshank Redemption is inspiring. The Mist was one of my favorite Stephen King adaptations. He established such a good look for The Walking Dead and I have to applaud all of these endeavors. That all being said, he has a bit of "one-trick-pony" going on with him. His movies all look and feel very similar, which is not a horrible thing because that one trick is very impressive. To me, The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile are practically the same movie. I know Shawshank doesn't have any supernatural elements, but let's call a spade a spade. These movies are spiritual cousins. I know that people lose their minds over The Shawshank Redemption and that movie is very good. It just never knocked my socks off. I won't deny that most of it is due to my constant unflinching snobbery, but watching a movie that felt exactly like Shawshank kind of gives the vibe of watching a movie cobbled together from deleted scenes. That's not fair because The Green Mile has its own world that is very well built. The only reason I can really see the seems in the plot is that I've now read too much Stephen King. There are a lot of his formulas in play here. But, again, that formula is good. Percy and Billy the Kid are both very typical Stephen King archetypes. They are the psychopath who suffer terrible ends due to their excessive cruelty. SPOILER: I could imagine King's description of Del frying because that is a very King moment. But these aren't bad things. There is a reason that Stephen King has dominated my summer: he's entertaining.
I love Tom Hanks as a human being. As I write this, I don't know about him as an actor. He's one of the actors like Hopkins who is almost always Tom Hanks, but that's okay. I think Road to Perdition might be the only real change in character for him, shy of him putting on an accent. People might scream Forrest Gump, but he often plays the protagonist without a real obvious flaw. He's always likable and charming like he probably is in real life. (If you've never heard him talk, I recommend his Nerdist podcast episodes. I want to be friends with Tom Hanks.) He does his Tom Hanks schtick in The Green Mile and it works. He does hit the needs of the story quite well. He's morally uncomplicated. Even when the movie presents an artificial crisis of conscience, Hanks's character doesn't really have any turmoil about what is right or wrong. Instead, his character knows what is the greater good and moves to ensure that it happens. The more complicated role is Michael Clarke Duncan's John Coffey. While Coffey might be easy to play as a simpleton, there is a mystery that is never really revealed about Coffey. I have to wonder what backstory that Duncan gave to Coffey because he plays the part with confidence without winking to the character's history. The mystery is what makes the movie flow so well. I don't think the movie would without the two part planning of Duncan secretly knowing what's really going on along with the fact that Coffey doesn't need to be explained. The Green Mile shares that bit of magic with The Predator. Explaining what Coffey really is would only lead to disappointment. Admittedly, Hanks's character hints that the character is an angel, but elements of the story don't secure that. It very much feels like a man of faith making a leap to a conclusion that is neither confirmed nor denied.
Maybe one of Darabont's hidden talents lies in casting people who have exceptional chemistry. The prison guards really do have this magical relationship. Without ever beating a dead horse, the characters are clearly friends. They all have a different relationship with one another, but they are all clearly friends. This also plays out with the secondary and tertiary characters. Each person has a very involved backstory with one another. Hanks reacts differently to James Cromwell's character than he does with his wife or with Brutal. (Why is his name Brutal? That has to be in the novellas somewhere.) That's super cool. On the other end of the scale are the antagonists and these casting choices are somewhat inspired. I'm saying somewhat because there are moments where the choices are a bit too on the nose. I'm referring to some of the choices that Sam Rockwell makes. I love Sam Rockwell. Seeing his name on a bill makes me excited for a movie most times. Billy the Kid is a bit over-the-top for me at times, but I do like him overall in this movie. He is creepy and disgusting, but there is no moment of subtlety that would make him truly terrifying. However, Doug Hutchison as Percy is a perfect antagonist. There's a weird moral compass to Percy. The guy is clearly a monster, but there are moment when Hutchison finds himself scared of himself. He's evil for the almost sexual thrill of the moment, but then always realizes when he's gone too far. He feels like the kid who has been bullied his whole life and finally has a shred of power. He's used his privilege to command respect from those who need not respect him. Unlike Rockwell's character, he's not playing one note. There are weird moments where Percy is almost sympathetic. Darabont makes sure to have these small beats that keep the movie from Percy being a super villain. Super villains aren't scary. They're sometimes even admired. No one is going to be wearing a Percy shirt because his flaws make him creepy as heck. I like that.
The look of the film is good, but as I've mentioned before, I've seen it before. It is beautifully lit and I think that Darabont isn't just doing it to make the movie look pretty. Light plays an important part in the plot, so having the movie lit the way it is makes a lot of sense. While most of the image is lit quite brightly, Darabont leaves room for shadows and darkness. This makes sense considering the motif of light and electricity surrounding key scenes. Major moments in Paul and Coffey's life have surges of power acting as a representative of the supernatural. By lighting the movie the way Darabont did, these moments are clear without being annoying. He does close up on the lights as they are about to explode, but there are moments where the light simply pulses. Contrast the lighting of the isolation room to the moments where Billy the Kid is going wild in his cell. Both are easy to see and match the tone of the film, but the use of lighting as a form of emotional intensity is very clever. The isolation room almost seems removed from the rest of the film because Coffey never goes in there. That's pretty cool. It may be an overanalysis, but I like it.
I am weirded out with the films thoughts on capital punishment. Paul is clearly a good man. He has the strongest moral code in the movie and he treats the inmates with respect. He's not afraid to get his hands dirty, but finds no glory in it and acknowledges when evil is around him. There is one moment that is very telling. He is aware that John Coffey is innocent and verbalizes that he should be damned for his participation in John Coffey's death. Sure, Coffey mollifies him by giving his consent. But in that moment, he is a sneeze away from also saying that he is responsible for all of the deaths on the ward. He treats Del quite well, acknowledging his personhood and seeing rehabilitation in effect. Yet, he still can execute these prisoners and go home to sleep like a baby. At no point do I think Paul likes the job of executioner, but it is odd that he can draw such a fine line between executing an innocent man and executing a rehabilitated man. Even if Paul had to execute Billy, there is a weird line in the sand. He hands Billy a cup of soda (sure, it has sleeping powder in it), but he gives it to him with the terms that Billy behaved that day. He sees Billy's humanity, even though he despises Billy. The movie does a very loose commentary, most probably accidentally, about the nature of capital punishment. But the movie seems very pro-capital punishment, despite grounding it in the reality that all criminals are not insane psychopaths.
I liked the movie over all. I'm sure lots of people have it on their favorite movie list, but I don't think I'll ever get there. The movie is extremely well made and extremely moving, but there's a bit too much of a hint of Hallmark manipulation going on here. The movie wants to make you emotionally vulnerable, so it turns on the waterworks to eleven. I love emotional vulnerability, but I want to come a little more naturally than it does in The Green Mile. Regardless, I liked the movie a lot and I'm glad I saw it.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.