Going the distance for greatness
|"The Green Mile"
Reviewed by Carlos deVillalvilla
(Click on the images to see larger version and credits.)
I know of at least three authentic American geniuses in the arts named Steve: Stephen Sondheim, who doesn't figure into this; Steven Spielberg; and Stephen King.
Spielberg started out as a director of entertainments that while not always taken seriously by the critical cognoscenti nonetheless enjoyed extreme popularity. Later, he would direct projects that met with critical acclaim, Oscars and the respect of his peers. He is now rightly considered one of the greatest directors of all time.
Stephen King appears to be paralleling Spielberg's course. At the start of his career, his work was dismissed as mere horror novels, but they sold in record numbers. The last few years, he has begun to produce works of greater depth and heart. Witness "The Green Mile," which has been brought to the screen by Frank Darabont, who also directed one of the best filmed adaptations of King's work, "The Shawshank Redemption."
Like "Shawshank," "The Green Mile" is set in prison in the '30s, at the start of the film. In this case, it's in cellblock E of the Cold Mountain Penitentiary in Louisiana (moved from Mississippi in the book) circa 1935. Paul Edgecombe (Tom Hanks) supervises the guards on the cellblock, which is better known as Death Row. He has a pretty good team of guards working for him, most notably Brutus "Brutal" Howell (David Morse), a surprisingly gentle-natured bear of a man.
Their job is to keep calm the men who are waiting to die because, as Edgecombe tells Percy Wetmore (Doug Hutchison), a sadistic guard with connections to the governor, "they can snap at anytime and hurt themselves, or somebody else."
Into this volatile mix comes John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan), a huge, hulking, simple man who dwarfs even Brutal. He has been convicted of the rape and particularly brutal murder of two young girls. He seems gentle and frightened, but as his lawyer (an uncredited Gary Sinese) explains, a dog may seem gentle and loving and then unexpectedly turn on you.
Coffey joins a group of men waiting to be executed, including Eduart Delacroix (Michael Jeter), a timid prisoner with a very precocious pet; Wild Bill Wharton (Sam Rockwell), who is understatedly described by Warden Hal Moores (James Cromwell) as "a problem child"; and Mr. Jingles, a mischievious mouse.
Parts of "The Green Mile" are hideous (a botched execution attempt) and sometimes beautiful (unexplainable cures, fireflies in the moonlight). It also has more urine than you'll ever see in five movies, so those who are squeamish about bodily fluids be warned.
Despite being three hours long, "The Green Mile" never drags for a moment. Hanks gives yet another Oscar-worthy performance and is almost sure to be nominated. Duncan and Morse could also get nods for Best Supporting Actor. As for the Big Enchilada, "The Green Mile" is a clear front-runner for Best Picture - it's that good.
The human spirit is really the subject of the picture, the nature of good and evil, death and dignity.
There are some emotionally gut-wrenching moments. Da Queen had tears streaming down her face for about the last half hour. She claims that "The Green Mile" is off the Hankie scale completely, and advises that you just bring a whole box of tissues with you. Preferably one of those industrial strength Costco sizes.
Sometimes, a movie comes along that you know from the first few moments is going to be a great movie-going experience, one that touches you in deep places, perhaps even comforts you. "The Green Mile" is just such a movie, and is my pick for the best film of 1999.
Theater or Video?