Review by J.T. Johnson
ORIGINAL RELEASE DATE: December 10, 1999
DIRECTOR: Frank Darabont
CINEMATOGRAPHY: David Tattersall
WRITER: Frank Darabont
MUSIC: Thomas Newman
When “The Green Mile” was released, it was a commercial success and it is also recognized as another great Stephen King adaptation from writer and director Frank Darabont. Before this film, Darabont had already directed “The Shawshank Redemption” in 1994. What I was surprised to find, though, is that while most critics gave the film a favorable review, a lot of them couldn’t help but focus on the film’s run time.
Yes, it is worth noting that the film is three hours long, but every time I’ve watched the movie, this has never been a problem for me. It feels like time fades away and by the time the credits roll, I’m always surprised that three hours has actually gone by. Admittedly, I do think that “Shawshank” is a better film, but “The Green Mile” is an absolutely worthy followup.
Most of the film is set in a prison’s E block where Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) is the head of death row, known as the Green Mile due to the lime colored floor. He is joined by Brutus Howell (David Morse), Harry Terwilliger (Jeffrey DeMunn), Dean Stanton (Barry Pepper) and the absolutely despicable Percy Wetmore (Doug Hutchison). The only reason Percy is there is due to connections within his family and his warped desire to see a death row inmate cook up close, which ultimately leads to the film’s most disturbing scene.
The rest of the guards couldn’t be any different. They know that they’re inmates are already on edge and, as Paul puts it, they treat the Mile like an intensive care ward. This is not to say that all the prisoners are easy to deal with. Sam Rockwell plays the out of control William “Wild Bill” Wharton and the guards often have to use the hose on him in order to put him into solitary.
One day, though, everything changes with the arrival of John Coffey (Michael Clark Duncan), a huge man that was convicted of raping and killing two little girls. Before John arrives, Paul has been dealing with a terrible urinary tract infection. After John grabs Paul one day, something miraculous happens as John appears to absorb the sickness from Paul and the guard is healed.
Believe it or not this is just a small fraction of the film. Throughout, we see the lives of the guards and the inmates and what they go through on the Mile. The biggest threat for the guards on the block isn’t even an inmate, but one their own with the atrocious Percy. Here is a character that is completely demented, spoiled and repulsive and he should go down as one of the greatest screen villains of all time.
There are interactions with the inmates but the film mostly focuses on the French speaking Eduard “Del” Delacroix (played by the late, great Michael Jeter). He may not be the brightest, but he is remorseful of the crime that put him on the block. He also befriends a particularly clever mouse that he names Mr. Jingles and the mouse ends up playing a more important role than what is initially shown.
As the film progresses, you get to know more about the goodness or evil within these people, even if you don’t get a complete story for all of them. For example, we never really get to know specifically why Del is on the Mile, but we understand that it was a mistake that he regrets and therefore, we have sympathy for him just like the guards do.
Appropriately, the most mysterious character in the movie is John Coffey himself. As Paul learns, he seemed to have just showed up out of nowhere when he was discovered with the bodies of the two girls, covered in blood and screaming. John does have mysterious scars on his body, but he says that he doesn’t seem to remember how he got them, giving the hint that he might be older than he is letting on.
The movie is about the characters, which means that you need some damn fine performers to bring it all together. Darabont definitely assembled one of the best casts possible. Hanks is as dependable as he has always been, giving Paul plenty of heart and he gives a performance that is as award worthy as most of his other films.
His chemistry with the guards, particularly Morse as Brutus, is genuine and you feel the respect of his fellow guards aside from Percy. He also has a kind yet distant relationship with the death row inmates and they wish that they had met Paul under different circumstances.
Eventually, though, Paul’s biggest dilemma is John. Paul quickly believes that John is innocent, not believing that God would give such a wonderful power to someone who could take life. Sadly, though, he has no legal way to prove John’s innocence and his greatest scenes involve John and talking about how he fears his final judgement if he can’t help John.
Despite Hanks’ great performance, though, the breakout star of this movie is Duncan as John. He is a beast of a man, but he is definitely a gentle giant and even though John has never attained a formal education, he manages to show a wisdom beyond his years. Duncan sadly passed away before his time in 2012, but thankfully he gave us a fantastic performance that will definitely stand the test of time.
Speaking of standing the test of time, “The Green Mile” is one that only gets better with age. It is an old school film with plenty of memorable characters and moments. Don’t let the three hour runtime scare you away because then you would be missing out on one hell of a film!