The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Well I can’t say anything bad can I. This film seems to top a lot of people’s favourite film list. It’s not my number 1, but it is fantastic. Poor old Andy Dufrane (Tim Robbins) is down on his luck, sat in a car with a pistol and bottle of bourbon. Angry and confused at his cheating wife. He’s innocent of killing her and her lover, but the jury don’t think so and Andy’s off to Shawshank. It’s a prison flick, maybe THE prison flick. Set in the mostly 40/50s. America. If this was a British film it’d be gritty and dangerous. The Shawshank Redemption isn’t gritty. That’s not to say it’s not brutal in places though. It’s the high and lows that help this story flow so well. Hell it’s a prison, it’s not meant to be fun is it. Warden Norton (Bob Gunton) and Captain Hadley (Clancy Brown) see to that, I think in many ways they’re my favourite characters, in that you love to hate them. Shawshank’s strength is its patience. It takes its time, slowly unfurling. You have to work for the redemption. Robbins the very embodiment of this patience, he plays Dufrane with a calm distinction. An enigma compared to the rest of the cast who are easy to read. Especially Red (Morgan Freeman) who helps matters with a spot of narration, because... well because he’s Morgan Freeman. Andy though is different from the other cons. Well mannered, decent, educated and calculating. Most importantly he has a plan. It’s kept in the shadows, another of this stories strengths, but there are subtle indicators. He works his way into the system like no one before, offering financial advise to the screws, gaining favour that helps him with some sorely needed protection, not to mention some friends. It’s not long before he finds himself doing work for the warden himself. Building up a little business, doing taxes and a myriad of financial jiggery pokery, “I had to come to prison to be a crook”. It’s heartbreaking in places. Not the persistent raping Andy endures, although that’s pretty bad. It’s the Brooks sub plot that gets me. The old man released after 50 years inside. The world changed, so much he can’t cope and decides “not to stay”. There’s beauty too though, both obvious, playing opera records over the PA and the less so, a perceived acceptance and peace in incarceration, finding things to keep the mind active. It’s not all perfect, the young Tommy character (Gil Bellows) always grated on me and that’s not changed. Maybe it’s because his arrival at Shawshank upsets the balance Andy’s made for himself, gives him hope, not the kind he’s fostered himself, the blind uncontrolled kind. It’s not the catalyst for what’s coming, but it sure helps things along and alright, maybe it ultimately makes things taste that little bit sweeter. You see his story of Andy’s innocence and it’s fall out, changes Andy’s perspective. It’s not just about retaining or regaining his life. Sure it’s that, but it’s about doing it while making a point and doing it in style. It’s what makes this film so enjoyable, almost fairytale like. Andy, broken, telling Red his ideas for the outside as the strings slowly swirl. “I don’t think should be doing this to yourself, these are just shitty pipe dreams”. Oh Red, you’ve no idea. This is why people love Shawshank though isn’t it, it’s the the payoff, all that slow building tension, the redemption. It’s gotta be one of the most satisfying finales in modern cinema. Pure escapism, pardon the pun. And we get a whole half hour to wallow in it. It’s taken it’s time up til now, why hurry. The minute that rock disappears through Raquel Welch it’s fuckin on! Now alright, there’s a lot of high production schmaltz and it’s the very definition of a happy ending, but if you can’t appreciate this for what it is, there’s little hope for you and remember “hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things”.