The Shawshank Redemption

There is nothing so wonderful as a free Sunday afternoon and a classic film playing on a big screen somewhere. AMC has been doing screenings of classic films consistently over the last six months. I applaud them making the effort and I wish I’d made more of them than I have. Fortunately, today I was able to see “The Shawshank Redemption” back in a theater in the twentieth anniversary year of it’s original release. This is a movie that received critical attention but not box office love when it first played. In it’s initial release it made about $16 million and then, when it was nominated for a bunch of Academy Awards, it added another $10 million or so. Today, it felt a little bit like a repeat because there were only five people in the screening, and I was the first one to buy a ticket according to the box office attendant. Those issues are still a little frustrating because this movie has built a reputation since it was released, like no other I have ever seen.

It is the number one rated film on the IMDB, and it ranks above another 1994 film that is often looked back upon as the film that should have won the Oscar that year “Pulp Fiction”. For a movie so middling at the box office, it’s reputation has to be based on secondary market exposure, so maybe now that everyone has seen it on DVD, Blu Ray, Pay Per View, Cable, Satellite and broadcast television people may feel it isn’t necessary to revisit it. People out there, if that’s you, you are wrong. The experience in the theater makes a movie sing like it can’t anywhere else. I first saw this with my friend Anne at the old Hastings Theater in Pasadena. There was a sneak preview that was supposedly sold out but we went and got in anyway.  She loved it immediately and while I admired it, I thought maybe it was a little cliched. Over the years my opinion has changed and the main reason for that is an appreciation of the story structure. The whole segment with Brooks, the convict who got released seemed tired when I first watched it, but as I saw the movie again over the years, I realized that the segment is so much less about that character than about all the others in the story. It is a window into the mind of the reluctant “Red” and the hopeful “Andy”.

I’m still not convinced that the Mozart moment would have played out the way it does in the film. but the narration by “Red”, delivered by Morgan Freeman, makes the moment so poetic and beautiful, that I can now suspend my disbelief for two minutes and appreciate the scene for the moment of glory that it truly is. The shot of the yard with the transfixed faces and bodies of the prisoners and guards is visually arresting. The beatific expression on Andy’s face as the Marriage of Figaro plays over the loudspeakers makes the punishment he will receive seem worthwhile.

The other sequence that is so worth watching on the big screen is the reveal of Andy’s plan of escape and redemption. From the discovery of the exit, with the warden staring into the void in the wall, to the moment the warden enters the void himself, we get a perfect encapsulation of Andy’s true brilliance. The just revenge that follows his exposure of the murder and corruption that takes place in the prison, is an incredibly satisfying moment. After having seen what Captain Hadley and Warden Norton were capable of, there is not an ounce of pity for either of them. Clancy Brown has been in many other films and made a great impression in them, but his sadistic guard makes most of the bad guys he has played over the years look tame. Whenever I see Bob Gunton in a film or TV show, I know that he is a good actor, but he has never had another part like this soulless bureaucrat again.

The Drew Struzan artwork for the tenth anniversary of the film.

Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins are both believable and heartbreaking in this film. While they have both subsequently won Academy Awards in the supporting actor category, this might have been the one time I can think of where a duo award for actor could be justified. They are two sides of a character trapped in prison, and they reflect the hopes and resignations of someone in that situation very memorably. Roger Deakin’s photography looks amazing on the big screen and the shot of Andy in the sewer pipe will make you gag because it is lit just well enough to let us know how horrible that 500 yard crawl would be. Kudos to Thomas Newman’s score which also sounded great in the theater today. It’s playing again tonight at seven and on Wednesday, March 26 at 2 and 7 as well. Don’t miss this opportunity, get busy living people.   

3 thoughts on “The Shawshank Redemption

  1. It's a hell of a great film and my favorite from 1994. It's also very true to the story on which it is based, which always makes me happy.

    As for seeing films from the past on the big screen, for some reason, a lot of people don't have interest. A couple of years ago, a local theater got an original print of the 1931 Tod Browning Dracula from Universal and showed it as a midnight movie. I was one of nine people who went to see it. It's heartbreaking.

  2. Awesome review, Richard. It's such a solid film that I never thought I'd be able to tackle in review form, just because of it's greatness. You manage to that effectively, however. I am very jealous you got to see it in theaters. I don't have an AMC anywhere near me…

  3. There is something wrong with a world where people would rather stay in and watch on their TV than experience a film in the format it was made for with an audience that shares that desire. I'd love Dracula to come to town, even at midnight I think I'd be willing to trek to a theater. Nick, sorry there is no AMC around, next Sunday and Wednesday is “The Silence of the Lambs”. Thanks to both of you for commenting, I appreciate hearing from folks.

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