Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #91
Director: Frank Darabont
Starring: Tom Hanks and Michael Clarke Duncan
I can't even joke about how Frank Darabont only makes movies about inspirational black men serving time in prison that have been adapted from Stephen King books right now. This movie was just way too good. There is almost definitely no movie more similar to The Shawshank Redemption than The Green Mile, but I can't even consider that a criticism. Both movies are so damn good in their own right that whining about their similarity and the fact that they share a director (and source material author) is all but invalid.
Just to make this easier on me, MASSIVE SPOILERS LURK AHEAD! There, now we can get started.
If the two movies are going to be compared anyway, it makes sense to start with where they differ. In Shawshank, human resilience and grit wins the day. Andy escapes because he just keeps chipping away at that hole in his wall with a rock hammer, and Red gets out because he is perfectly honest with his jailers when he's brought up on consideration for parole. Relatively small tragedies punctuate the film, but the two main protagonists are freed, and the main antagonist is dead. That's the ending everyone wants. In The Green Mile, we fall in love with John Coffey, the gentle giant who can heal ailments, but he gets executed, and his co-protagonist is cursed to live an exceptionally long life and watch all his friends and family die. There is no catharsis. Great things happen all along the way – and sad ones, too – but the ending offers no closure, except that of John Coffey's death. It makes the prevailing tone a hell of a lot bleaker than that of Shawshank, that's for sure.
The points of similarity come through mostly in the writing and direction. The Green Mile and Shawshank are filmed in a pretty similar way, and both create that claustrophobic, imprisoned feeling for the viewer that Darabont is so great at capturing. While the camera is inside the walls of this prison, you're going to feel hopeless. I think it's fair to recognize Darabont's direction slightly less than I did when I wrote on Shawshank since he basically self-plagiarized all of his techniques. It's still impressive and still a pleasure to watch, but it shouldn't be mistaken for something original, even within his own filmography.
The comparison to Shawshank that The Green Mile has earned which is the biggest compliment as the most accurate assessment is that it pulls off something truly epic in scope while managing to feel totally unpretentious. Frank Darabont spent over three hours telling his audience about a convicted murderer on death row who can heal people with a power that he received, in accordance with what all the characters believe, from God. That could be a formula for making the schmaltziest movie of all time, but it's entirely engrossing instead, and I've never talked to anyone who didn't love this movie. I'm a stone-cold atheist and I had no problem accepting that this character, within the context of the film's universe, received his magical power from God. I was seeing things in strict black and white moral shades that I don't even believe exist. Stephen King and Frank Darabont and Michael Clarke Duncan and Tom Hanks sold this to me, and I didn't even put up a fight. It was that good. Make no mistake, The Green Mile is deserving of the praise it receives.
The Good: That rare combination of epic feel and unpretentiousness.
The Bad: I'll be honest, both lead performances are highly overrated. Tom Hanks is doing his "Tom Hanks with a southern accent" character, and Michael Clarke Duncan overacts the shit out of a few key scenes. The script and cinematography are strong enough that the performances aren't distracting, but they certainly aren't great.
The Skinny: I can deal with this at #91. I really liked it.