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The Green Mile
5 reviews

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Movie Details

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Directed By
Frank Darabont

Written By:
Frank Darabont, Stephen King

Tom Hanks, Michael Clarke Duncan, David Morse, Bonnie Hunt, Michael Jeter, Sam Rockwell, James Cromwell, Patricia Clarkson, Graham Greene, Barry Pepper, Doug Hutchison, Jeffrey DeMunn, Harry Dean Stanton, Dabbs Greer, William Sadler, Gary Sinise, Eve Brent, Eve Brent

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The Green Mile (1999)
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Movie Review by Jarrod
July 23rd, 2007

'The Green Mile' is the nickname given to death row at a Louisiana prison. When we first see it, it has only a couple of inhabitants, Native American Arlen Bitterbuck and kooky Cajun Eduard Delacroix (Jeter). The other cells stand empty, but are soon to be filled by the gentle giant John Coffey (Duncan), accused of murdering two little white girls, a crime for which a black man could never find amnesty, and the monstrous Bill Wharton (Rockwell), a depraved psychopath who loves to taunt and threaten. The Mile is presided over by Paul Edgecomb (Hanks), a genuinely nice guy who believes one should treat inmates with respect and dignity, an opinion seemingly shared by the warden, Hal (James Cromwell), and Paul's fellow guards, Brutus Howell (Morse), Dean Stanton (Pepper), and Henry Terwilliger (Jeffrey DeMunn). The exception is the loathsome Percy Wetmore (Hutchinson), a sadistic coward with good connections (the governor is his stepfather), who can get transferred at any time, but sticks around to see an execution firsthand.

Coffey is a curiosity. He is largely illiterate, is afraid of the dark, and speaks with kindness and warmth, always courteous, which makes it more and more implausible that he could be capable of the heinous act he is said to have committed. Paul is suffering from a painful infection, which renders him sexually impotent, and doctors cannot seem to do much for him, but his wife (the wonderful Bonnie Hunt) remains supportive and confident that it will eventually subside. This is when he discovers Coffey's special ability, to heal illnesses of most any kind, and even bring things back from certain death, as he demonstrates with Delacroix's pet mouse Mr. Jingles, crushed underfoot by Percy, in a moment of pure spitefulness and cruelty. Paul begins to believe that Coffey is innocent, as God would not place such a gift in the hands of someone who could molest and murder two young girls. Thus, the movie deals with the supernatural, but in a profoundly spiritual way, as the parallels between Coffey and Jesus are obvious, as are the racial overtones.

The central relationship between Paul and John is developed thoroughly and poignantly, with Paul mystified by John's talents, which John explains in a very modest and simplistic fashion. Paul decides to take John to visit Melinda (Patricia Clarkson), the warden's wife. She has a brain tumor, which is inoperable (or at least beyond the medical skills of the doctors of that time), and it causes her to diminish both physically and psychologically. One scene shows Delacroix's execution, intentionally sabotaged by Percy, and leading to gruesome results, a powerful statement on the attendant inhumanity of capital punishment, or rather, one of its more famous devices, which is now disregarded in favor of lethal injection, though it is not entirely extinct.

The performances are more like embodiments, flawless and convincing, with Hanks earning affection and sympathy as the noble and decent Paul, who reacts with understandable perplexity and guilt to Coffey and his eventual, irreversible fate. Duncan is the standout, though, in a role that is perfectly tailored to both his physical stature and the deep richness of his voice; he earned a well-deserved Oscar nomination but lost to Michael Caine. Hutchinson is easy to despise, Rockwell and Jeter are colorful and memorable, Morse is terrific as the resident enforcer, who can put down unruly convicts with a few quick blows, if necessary.

'The Green Mile' affects you on multiple levels, and concludes in the same place it started, in a nursing home, where Paul is telling his story to an elderly woman, who is not inclined to believe him, but she eventually has to, as there is obviously something extraordinary about Paul, who should be well over a hundred, and probably dead, ditto for the old friend he keeps in a shoebox inside of an abandoned shed. I thought this was one of the best films of 1999, and it resonates with me still.

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