Saturday, February 22, 2014

Morgan Freeman Week: The Shawshank Redemption

There are a few different things going on in the universe right now. Though we're nearing the end, it is still Black History Month. I haven't mentioned it before now. Instead, I sheepishly put up a review of Lee Daniels' The Butler yesterday. Next weekend is Oscar Weekend. Still having not seen most of the nominated films, I won't be doing any big Oscar preview like a lot of my fellow bloggers. So, in a trivial nod to both Black History Month and Oscar Weekend, I will dub these last few days of February, and the first couple of March, Morgan Freeman Week. In case you've never seen a movie and somehow missed the pic above, yes he is Black. He has also been nominated for five Academy Awards. He won Best Supporting Actor for his role in Million Dollar Baby which we will not be reviewing this week. We'll start with perhaps his most famous role. It did earn him one of those Oscar noms, but unfortunately, he didn't bring home the gold. That movie is none other than The Shawshank Redemption...

Directed by Frank Darabont.
1994. Rated R, 142 minutes.
Morgan Freeman
Bob Gunton
Mark Rolston
Gil Bellows

When Andy Dufresne (Robbins) is convicted of murdering his wife and her lover, for which he will serve consecutive life sentences, he is sent to Shawshank to spend the rest of his days. Shawshank is the type of place where a vicious beating from the guards is to be expected for just about any indiscretion. Of course, there are also some rough and tumble characters who try to take whatever it is they want from whomever may have it. As you might suspect of a guy whose been a clean cut banker his whole life, he has a tough time of it early on. Eventually, he joins a small circle of friends. Among them, he is closest to Red (Freeman). Over the next couple decades we watch as their friendship grows and both men go through lots of trials and tribulations. This is based on a Stephen King novella entitled Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.

Perhaps, the most remarkable thing about this movie is how well it holds together. Every piece of it seems to fit perfectly into the whole. Therefore, even when it does things that seem counter-intuitive, such as having a group of convicted felons as our heroes, it works. Of course, if the cons are the good guys, the warden and the guards are the villains. That's not at all a new thing in cinematic history, but it's never been done better than it is right here. Bob Gunton as Warden Norton and Clancy Brown as Capt. Hadley are so thoroughly detestable it gets to the point where we feel some of the same fear as the inmates whenever we know they're coming. There may be no worse or more helpless feeling than when the persecuted knows that their persecutors are acting with impunity. This is what makes Norton's and Hadley's a tremendously effective combination of antagonist and henchman.

On the other side of things are the guys we love. As Andy, Robbins gives arguably the best performance of his career. He's a guy who seems aloof at times, but really has the best interest of others at heart. Yes, there is a bit of selfishness present. He wants his fellow prisoners to experience as many things as possible that people in the free world enjoy. Freedom, and the pursuit of it, is an enormous theme in this film. This pursuit helps him feel normal. He likes feeling normal. He also likes thinking. There is always something going on beneath the surface. Robbins clearly shows this. As his main cohort, Freeman is just wonderful. His easy-going way, and ability to get stuff, make him a perfect companion for Andy. We see the two men become much more than business associates without really saying so to each other for a very long time. The look on Red's face often shows us this. Most interestingly, Freeman uses a variety of smiles to subtly create emotion. These aren't clownish grins and obvious acting tactics, but sly positioning of his facial features that suggests something different than the smile he wears a scene before or later. It's an amazing piece of work by Freeman.

Across the board, the acting is outstanding. This includes a never-better William Sadler and James Whitmore, part of the small circle of friends that includes Andy and Red. But acting isn't all there is here. The story just moves along so effortlessly it's impossible not to get pulled along. Then, somehow, it suddenly injects mystery in the third act. Usually, movies can't do this effectively. It's either suspenseful from the start or not at all. Here, things just seem to be moseying along, albeit not in our guys' favor, then we're suddenly not sure what will happen next. It works good enough that what Andy does tends to be the only part of the film most people remember.

Following Andy's escapades, the movie goes on a little while longer. I can see why some think it goes too long and that it's entirely too sappy. It is sappy. In this case, however, it works because we've come to know these guys so well that we yearn for it to work out this way. Truthfully, it could have ended earlier. I am a guy who is quite okay with a less than happy ending. Some films just have to have a feel good ending, though. This is one of them. Do I believe it's the best movie ever made, as readers of have ranked it? No. However, it is certainly a modern classic and I wouldn't fault anyone who did have it as their number one.


  1. I agree that it could have ended on a less happy note, but overall speaking I love this movie to bits. I've only seen it once but when my mum was watching it and I went into her room, it was hard to go out again. Great review and cool idea for a blogathon!
    Btw: "Yes, he is black" kinda cracked me up.

    1. Gotta point out the obvious to some folks, lol. It's a movie that's extremely hard to dislike. It sucks you in and doesn't let you out, even if you're trapped in your mother's room! Thanks for reading.