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The Green Mile (1999)


Don’t be alarmed by the fact that The Green Mile is three hours long. You could say that a long movie is required here, since Frank Darabont’s film is pulled from Stephen King’s acclaimed series of six books by the same name. In these books, King returned to the kind of work he was doing in The Shawshank Redemption (based on a short story of his). Both films are less interested in splatter and gore, and more focused on the minds of their strange characters.

The resemblance to Shawshank is uncanny. Both are epic prison films that ultimately tell stories of personal growth and enlightenment. But The Green Mile isn’t about the prisoners, it’s about the guards, and one notable prisoner that crosses their paths. Leading the crew of the 1935 southern prison is guard Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks), a kind man who treats his death row inmates with all the dignity he can. His latest charge is John Coffey (Michael Duncan), a gentle giant with alarming powers of the spirit who was convicted of killing two little girls.

Before it’s time for Coffey to walk The Green Mile (the road to ‘Old Sparky,’ the electric chair), he has a profound effect upon the other guards and inmates. And Paul is at the center of this. Mr. Jingles, the prison’s mouse, takes second billing. The light bulbs, which explode more dramatically and more often than in any other film in history, take third.

There’s plenty here to make you laugh and cry, and director Darabont (who also did Shawshank) knows how to tug each string. Hanks’s Southern accent might not be up to the standards he set in Forrest Gump and Saving Private Ryan, but that’s okay. Duncan is the one to watch here. Giving a performance full of nobility and pathos, he is the film’s true emotional core, and, despite that three hour running time, he’ll glue you to your seat.