Saturday, September 20, 2014

9. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Code-name: Prison Break (what else, right?)

Based on short story "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption" by Stephen King

Director/Screenwriter: Frank Darabont
Type: prison movie drama
Composer: Thomas Newman


Andy Dufresne- Tim Robbins
Red- Morgan Freeman
Warden Norton- Bob Gunton
Captain Hadley- Clancy Brown
Brooks- James Whitmore (RIP 2009)
Tommy- Gil Bellows

Notable Nominations:

nomination- OSCAR- Best Picture*
nomination- OSCAR- Best Actor- Morgan Freeman*
nomination- OSCAR- Best Adapted Screenplay*
nomination- OSCAR- Best Cinematography (Legends of the Fall)
nomination- OSCAR- Best Sound (Speed)
nomination- OSCAR- Best Film Editing*
nomination- OSCAR- Best Original Score (The Lion King)
nomination- Golden Globe- Best Actor (Drama)- Morgan Freeman*
nomination- Golden Globe- Best Supporting Actor- Tim Robbins (Martin Landau)
nomination- Grammy- Best Film/TV Score (Schindler's List)

*lost to Forrest Gump


Much Ado about Awards
In the history of cinema, I doubt you'd find a more competitive Oscar year than 1995. In addition to "Forrest Gump" (which walked away with nearly everything it was nominated for), it had to contend with:

  • Pulp Fiction
  • Four Weddings and a Funeral
  • Quiz Show
And if this had been a more recent year when they allowed for more nominees, I think "Ed Wood" could have been another contender. I saw it a while after putting this list together and I had so much fun with it. You also can't beat Martin Landau's performance as the legendary Bela Legosi.

Everyone, movie nerd or not, has at least heard of "Forrest Gump" if they hadn't seen it. But as the years went by and certain movies went from cult favorites to sleepers, it's an often debated topic.
Pretty much every film critic you can think of had put "The Shawshank Redemption" (which I will affectionately refer to as Shawshank for the rest of this entry) in their top 10 favorite movies of all time. The first time I personally heard about it was a couple years ago on the Reelz channel. They had a top 10 show where people online would vote in their favorite movies of [fill in the theme, actor, director, etc]. A whole lotta people voted included Shawshank in there somewhere.

Stephen King commentary

So I finally got around to seeing it a couple years ago...
What I will say for it, the writing was incredible. Everything down to the last detail [seriously, every last detail!] was done extremely well. There were few dull moments [again, the 3rd act drags... a lot of movies have this problem, apparently], you really got to know the characters well and the incredible ending.. I won't give it away, but it tied up all the loose ends better than any film I'd ever seen. Let's just say: if you pay close attention to all the details, prepare to be blown away.

It gave me hope that I could take a stab at reading some Stephen King. Horror and psycho-thrillers freak me out, so seeing anything like Carrie or Misery sounds like an impossibility. However, I wouldn't mind reading the books. I also would like to see "The Green Mile," but haven't had any success. Commercials or no commercials, it's a long ass movie and I need to set aside three hours to do that... on HBO or ShowTime, of course.

Interesting fact: Stephen King and the director who wrote the screenplay were friends. They started corresponding after King liked Darabont's adaptation of another of his short stories ("The Woman in the Room"). Because of this budding friendship, King sold him the rights to the film and the beginning of its production was when they officially met.
Darabont must have been super in-tune with the source material: he wrote the screenplay in 8 weeks.

Life in the Big House

It's my only experience with this genre, but I doubt you'll find a better cinematic example of "prison culture."
Andy, accused of killing his wife and her lover, is the new guy in Shawshank. It's a very rough place for him off the get-go, keeps getting his ass handed to him by the residential tough guys.
Then things get better. He was a banker before his imprisonment and helps all the authority figures with their taxes and other financial stuff. He also forms a close bond with budding parole, Red, who is characterized early on as "the guy who knows how to get things." Shawshank more or less runs on a bartering system and Red's the expert.

Some of the things Andy asks for: a rock hammer to carve his own chess set, and a poster of Rita Hayworth.
Apparently, they had to remove her name from the movie title because agents were querying the producers about getting their actresses/models an audition for a role.

Aside from the kick-ass twist in the 3rd act, my favorite scene is in the library where they're categorizing books. This happens after Andy spend a letter a week for 6 years to the Senate for funds. One of the books was "Count of Monte Cristo." After Andy says it's about a prison, Red says it ought to be filed under educational.
There's a lot of seriousness in the movie, but there's room for a few laughs every now and then.

Prison life is funny, in an ironic way, too, especially when it comes to Brooks. He was in charge of the library and had been in Shawshank for 50 something years. He gets paroled and is not happy about it. Yep, over time you get used to life on the inside that it becomes ALL you know and it's hard to know how to function on the outside.

Another notable storyline is the introduction of Tommy (Gil Bellows- who my family knows as Billy from "Ally McBeal"). He's a bit of a punk, has the Danny Zucko/Elvis Presley hairstyle (complete with sideburns). Andy helps him get his high school equivalency (as he had for some other inmates). Tommy later tells him how he heard a former inmate confess to the murders Andy was charged with.
Considering how Andy is helping the Warden with money laundering, the end result is pretty rough... and it makes the eventual comeuppance all the sweeter.

Honestly, there's too much gold to be mined in this movie, it's best to stop here.
One person on IMDB commented (obviously this is dated :P) not to bother renting it and buy the movie. I found it at Target dirt cheap for 5 bucks.
If all else fails, you can just tune in. TNT and/or AMC broadcast it at least once a month. The commercials add half an hour, making it a 3 hour film, but it really wasn't so bad. Having the breaks in between, if this is your first time, gives you time to think about it.

I don't know what the lesson would be, but this would be a good movie to study in class. So much to discuss.

Coming Soon

Other than next week's movie being another Oscar nominee that maybe should have won Best Picture, this interesting factoid ties the two together:

Frank Darabont watched this movie several times while working on Shawshank and drew inspiration from it. Particularly the voice-over narration and showing passage of time.

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