Starring: Tom Hanks, David Morse, James Cromwell, Michael Clark Duncan
Director: Frank Darabont
It’s been a long time since I’ve put fingers to keys in order to write a movie critique. Casting my eye back over my archives, I think it may have been “Wag the Dog” in the autumn of 1998 which last received one of my scathing attacks.
Well that time has arrived again as the lure of Stephen King’s novel-turned-movie, “The Green Mile”, was enough to encourage me to make a recent theatre excursion.
So what’s it all about? “The Green Mile” Sounds like one of those 1940s dramas about a strained relationship between a young athlete and his trainer during the war. Well, it isn’t.
The film is mainly based in the 1930s on a death row, or ‘the green mile’ as it is referred to by the prison guards. Although “The Green Mile” relates several stories which are all neatly interwoven, the main focus is around newly condemned prisoner, John Coffey (Michael Clark Duncan) and the incredible relationship he strikes up with the guards who are soon to execute him. Coffey is an imposing figure at over seven feet tall with muscles on his muscles, but has a mind that is simple. Senior prison guard Paul Edgecomb (Hanks) starts to believe that Coffey might actually be innocent of the crime he is convicted of, the brutal murder of two young girls.
Essentially the movie is a character-driven vehicle which demands, and delivers, excellent performances from the cast. Hanks (carrying a few extra pounds it seems!) is excellent throughout as the honest and respected Edgecomb. Fellow prison guard David Morse (“The Negotiator”, “Contact”) puts in a powerful performance as Brutal, as does James Cromwell (“Babe”, “LA Confidential”) as the tormented Prison Warden, Hal Moores. Doug Hutchinson is perfect as the vulgar and spoilt Percy Wetmore.
But the outstanding performance is from relative unknown, Michael Clark Duncan who plays the doomed simpleton, John Coffey. There is no doubt the role was bound to strike the right emotions with the audience regardless of who played it, but he did it and he did it well. And of course was nominated for an Oscar in the process.
There’s plenty to chew on in the 3 hours that this movie weighs in at. This is essentially the usual Stephen King story – good vs evil. One particularly striking scene between John Coffey and a fellow prisoner brings this to light perfectly. There is an element of stereotyping on display – Coffey is your stereotypical 19th century touched black man, Wetmore is the over-characterised vile prison guard, “Wild Bill” Wharton (Sam Rockwell) is the over-the-top satanic lunatic. But I can live with it. The characters on the surface are easy to understand and you can concentrate on their inter-relationships a lot easier. Ok, so it would be nice to know why Wetmore is such a dick, or what made Wharton a psychopath, but it’s not really that important in the context of the movie.
There’s no point getting up in arms about the unrealistic aspects of the movie either. I mean how nice were prison guards likely to behave towards a black simpleton in the 1930s. Infact how likely was it that John Coffey would make it to trial at all considering that he was found with the dead bodies of two white girls by an angry white mob with shotguns. But this is a story, and stories don’t have to be real. That is why there are elements of fantasy, a mystical aspect to the movie that leaves you open-jawed.
The range of emotions felt are wide-ranging. There are moments when you feel anger, times when you laugh out loud, occasions when you shed a tear, and flashes when all you can do is smile and feel really good in your heart. I don’t wish to labour the point, but this movie touched me like few films have before.
Walk the mile. It’s worth it.