The Shawshank Redemption (Original Review)

The date was October 1st, 1994.  My local cinema was previewing a brand new Stephen King adaptation called The Shawshank Redemption.  It was scheduled to open in about a week or two and I decided to go see it before its general release and write a review for The Satellite, my college’s student newspaper.
Shawshank was being screened along with the regular feature, Princess Caraboo, which was so dull I nearly dozed off a number of times during the screening.  Thank goodness the good movie was screened before the bad one. 
Unfortunately, my assessment of the movie didn’t get into the Satellite, although, I do believe it was considered.  I don’t remember now if any review of Shawshank was ever published.  It’s too bad because this was one of my better pieces during the Satellite era.
The Shawshank Redemption broke even during its brief theatrical run in the fall of 1994 but was so loved by the movie industry it received 7 Academy Award nominations.  However, it would strike out in every category.  Since then, the film has risen in stature.  Movie audiences clearly missed the boat 12 years ago but subsequent home video releases (and even a 10th Anniversary theatrical re-issue) have given them ample opportunities to make up for lost time.  This movie is so beloved now the Internet Movie Database ranks it as the second greatest film of all time, right behind The Godfather.  I loved the film when I saw it that October night and I even went back and screened it a second time during its regular release.  It is deeply moving, insightful, humourous and memorable, but not the second greatest film of all time. 
In an earlier posting, I showcased an essay entitled How Iraqis Relate To Shawshank which allowed me to revisit the film almost 10 years after I first saw it.  The idea was hatched after I kept catching parts of the movie on TV, getting sucked back into the story that I remember thoroughly enjoying during previous viewings.  What you’re about to read is the original assessment of the film from 1994.  It’s succinct and doesn’t stink.
By Dennis Earl
The movies have often portrayed prisons as malevolent hellholes where the prisoners who inhabit them are cold, heartless, ugly, heavily-tattooed individuals who have no shame for their crimes and once they are free, would gladly do it again. THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION is the exception to the standard prison drama. It is a film filled with deeply flawed inmates who are full of regrets and can’t do anything to correct their mistakes. These people are real to us and they certainly don’t fit the stereotype of a cruel, vindictive criminal. We care about them. We want them to be rehabilitated but in Shawshank prison, the convicts who leave this institution come out feeling afraid and more insecure because the place they called home for 10 to 50 years is evicting them back into society. They can’t adapt to society anymore and it’s no wonder that they commit more crimes to get back into prison again.
The movie stars Tim Robbins as Andy, a wrongly convicted felon who is sentenced to 2 life sentences in prison for supposedly killing his wife and her lover. Andy did have a loaded revolver ready to shoot his intended victims but he was too drunk to go through with it. He ended up throwing the gun in the nearby river which, for some strange reason, was never recovered. He told the truth but he was convicted anyway.
He arrives at Shawshank prison in 1947 where we also meet Red, (a very good performance by Morgan Freeman) a regretful murderer who is constantly being rejected for parole. He’s the man who can get you things. He has connections. You want a pack of smokes, he’ll get it for you in a day. You want Rita Hayworth, that’ll take weeks but it can be done.
Andy and Red become friends rather quickly.  After Andy manages to convince the vindictive prison guard (and later, the even more brutal warden) that he can save them money on his taxes, the gutsy move pays off. Andy gets some much needed protection from the guards after suffering several bloody beatings from a gang of lustful thugs, he does everybody’s taxes and occasionally, his friends in the prison can have a few beers while they’re tarring the roof of the prison facility.

But Andy doesn’t stop there. He decides to write letters to the government about establishing an official library for Shawshank. There already is a room where a few old novels are stored and looked after by an aging criminal named Brooks (James Whitmore) but there isn’t a specific place for the inmates to read. Many of them can’t read anyway but Andy’s intentions are ambitious enough. After several years of writing letters to the government, Andy gets his wish and receives thousands of books. The government couldn’t stand his continuous letter writing anymore.

Believe it or not, this isn’t even the main plot of the film. About halfway through, we learn that the warden has been laundering money for himself and has used Andy to complete the books for him. Anymore details about this plotline and I would be spoiling your fun.

THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION is a wonderful piece of art. Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins are very good here playing a couple of forgotten society members trying to get used to their new routine. Once they get used to that routine, they’re never the same. They will never fit in with the outside world ever again because in prison, they felt safe. The real world just isn’t.

The movie expands on the idea that prisons don’t rehabilitate criminals. But unlike AMERICAN ME (another impressive film), Shawshank prison doesn’t give convicts new criminal strategies. Instead, it makes their stay a long and pointless routine that they will never forget once their sentences are over.

THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION was based on a novella by Stephen King and it’s one of the best adaptations of his work that I’ve seen. Whenever you get the chance to see this movie, be prepared for some surprises. The filmmakers give you subtle clues as to what will happen next. But I’ll bet you won’t even notice them. You’ll be too busy enjoying this wonderful film.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, April 8, 2006
12:21 p.m.

Published in: on April 8, 2006 at 12:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

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