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By Ron Wells | December 10, 1999

OK, we’ve got this movie directed by Frank Darabont based on a story by Stephen King. It’s an historical drama set in a prison. The staff and inmates are going about their business, when a strange, new prisoner arrives. The new guy may or may not be guilty. Prison changes him little, though, while his presence affects all those around him. “The Shawshank Redemption”? Nope. It’s “The Green Mile.” King better get to work if they’re ever going to finish this box set.
Now that I’ve stated the obvious, I’ll answer the most obvious question: Not ‘is it any good?’ but ‘how does the new film compare to “Shawshank”?’ “The Green Mile” is a fine movie, but it’s just not as good as the earlier film, for at least three reasons.
First, “Mile”, at around three hours, is longer, but mostly covers a period of around six months or so. “Shawshank” covered twenty years. We saw the rich relationship between Tim Robbins’ and Morgan Freeman’s characters develop over time. The weight of that experience provided the power for Freeman’s redemption in the finale. Tom Hanks’ prison guard, Paul Edgecomb, is left to react only to the shock of specific events.
Second, “Shawshank” was a very naturalistic film with no fantastic elements. The new film hinges upon the supernatural healing powers of the inmate, John Coffey (Michæl Clarke Duncan). This “gift” distances the audience from connecting to the characters and what they’re going through.
Finally, well, Coffey is a big idiot. I mean that literally as he’s portrayed as a 7-foot, 350-pound man who’s illiterate and somewhat retarded. Nobody even knows where he came from. Tim Robbins’ Andy Dufresne was an average looking but intelligent, college-educated banker. He actually had a normal life until his life spun out of control. With which of the characters can you most easily identify?
Now neither of these two strange prisoners are really the main characters of their stories. They are the catalysts of their stories by which others change. Each was still handed an unpleasant fate with which they came to terms. Others could suffer Andy’s fate, though, and by making the best of his situation he brought the best out his friends.
Still, “The Green Mile” is one of the best prison films ever made*. – Ron Wells
(* Not set inside of a women’s prison with the word “Heat” in the title.)

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