While at an assisted-living home in 1999, Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) reflects on his life back in the 1930s when he was a prison officer in charge of death row and the electric chair. While he had seen a variety of criminals walk through his penitentiary, none of them had quite an effect on him as John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan), a black man accused of a heinous crime. Paul and his fellow guards soon face a moral dilemma when they realize John has a mysterious, special gift that could prove his innocence.
On the day of my judgment, when I stand before God, and He asks me why did I kill one of his true miracles, what am I gonna say? That it was my job?
Going into The Green Mile, I assumed that, aside from the fantasy element, this movie would be a lot like The Shawshank Redemption. Both films are directed by Frank Darabont, adapted from a story by Stephen King, and revolve around prison life. While the prisoners are more the focus of the story in The Shawshank Redemption, here it’s a little more focused on the guards, particularly Paul Edgecomb and his grasp on life. With the sort of job he has, it’s no surprise that he has a cynical outlook. As the film progresses, and as he gets to know John Coffey more, he begins restoring his faith in humanity. But at the same time, he struggles with his position on death row and what that will mean for the kind-hearted prisoner he’s grown fond of. Tom Hanks does a great job of displaying this conflict of interest his character faces, both internally and in expressing it with other characters around him.
All the other actors here perfectly fit their parts as well, with Sam Rockwell being a particular stand-out in the supporting cast as a disturbingly sadistic prisoner. The chemistry between the cast as a whole is great too, as the relationships between everyone’s characters feel authentic, especially between the prison guards. While Tom Hanks is the star and is generally a film’s driving force, it’s Michael Clarke Duncan as John Coffey who really stands out among this fantastic cast and makes The Green Mile memorable. His presence is constantly felt throughout the film even though he has a smaller amount of screentime. But when he is on screen, he doesn’t waste a second of it and remains a compelling figure; it almost makes me wish he was the film’s protagonist instead. Still, the film is a worthwhile watch, and though it’s a little over three hours, it moves briskly through what’s really a fascinating story.
The Green Mile (1999)
Directed by: Frank Darabont
Starring: Tom Hanks, David Morse, Michael Clarke Duncan, Bonnie Hunt, James Cromwell
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture; Best Supporting Actor (Michael Clarke Duncan); Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay; Best Sound
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