Hankering for Prison Coffey
Does lightening strike, twice well it gets close for director Frank Darabont who having scored a success with the impressive "The Shawshank Redemption" once more takes on a Stephen King novel and a prison drama with "The Green Mile". Although both set in a prison "The Green Mile" is definitely a different sort of movie to "The Shawshank Redemption" with a tale which embraces the supernatural and those on death row. And to be honest whilst bloated at 189 minutes "The Green Mile" is another impressive movie, maybe not as impressive as the compelling "The Shawshank Redemption" but still impressive. From the writing, the acting through to the easy going flow of the story it all works and the negatives really come from the scenes which bookend the movie causing in part to end up feeling bloated.
Serving as a guard on Death Row Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks - You've Got Mail) is good at his job, keeping things peaceful and treating those he will lead to the electric care with a certain amount of respect and dignity. But nothing can prepare him for when John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan - Armageddon) shows up on death row, sentenced to death for killing two young girls, as John is a giant of a man who is as gentle as anything and even frightened of the dark. Along with his fellow guards Paul discovers that Coffey is not all he seems as he enriches their lives in ways they could never imagined as well as helping them to deal with cowardly guard Percy (Doug Hutchison - Con Air) who seems to get sadistic pleasure from treating the prisoners with disrespect.
I will put my hands up and say that I haven't read Stephen King novel which "The Green Mile" is adapted from but the way the movie unfolds, the number of events which occur in the movie I get a feeling that it has covered as much of the book as feasibly possible. And what Director Darabont does is whilst he tells this story of death row and the relationships which form not just between the guards and John Coffey but all the prisoners he builds up the characters. In reality there aren't many characters in "The Green Mile" but for the first hour he creates them, he makes them real so that we know the pain that Paul Edgecomb is in with his bladder problem but also how it affects his relationship to his wife. We also appreciate the close bond he has with Brutus 'Brutal' Howell and also sees it as his duty to treat the prisoners on The Green Mile with a certain amount of respect despite their crimes. And that is what Darabont does with all the characters so we come to understand and like or dislike the various characters, looking at them as people rather than just as actors.
This hour of character building is part of the reason why "The Green Mile" is bloated at 189 minutes but having said that it for the most flows naturally so that you become engrossed in what is happening, oblivious of how long it takes to really get going. And that get going point comes when we watch the placid Coffey perform a miracle and cure Edgecomb of his bladder infection. It is the start of the supernatural element which fills the rest of the movie as we watch John Coffey time and again perform miracles, showing that in fact he is not a bad man. And of course this leads to the emotional turmoil for Paul and his guards as they not only come to be his friend but also have the task of being his executioner despite knowing that in fact he is incapable of hurting good people.
What is interesting is as a movie adapted from a Stephen King novel and embracing the supernatural you may expect it to also embrace horror. In fact the entire supernatural element to "The Green Mile" doesn't have a single scene of horror attached. Instead the horror actually comes from the executions by electric chair which are disturbingly shocking especially one which goes horrifically wrong. Plus the flashback with one disturbing scene where we watch Coffey cradling the dead bodies of two young girls his fingers running through their blood stained hair.
But the trouble is that "The Green Mile" is book ended by scenes of Paul Edgecomb as an old man living in an old people's home where he mischievously goes walk abouts into the woods. These scenes are there to add a twist whilst also leading to what is essentially one long flashback to 1935 but the pay off from these scenes just doesn't have a huge effect. And the knock on effect is that they end up being part of the reason why "The Green Mile" ends up running much longer than in reality it needed to be.
As for the acting well it is wonderful through out be it from the likes of Tom Hanks and David Morse who play guards Paul and Brutus through to the minor roles such as Bonnie Hunt who plays Paul's loving wife Jane. But there are two performances which stand out and the first of these is Michael Clarke Duncan who plays John Coffey. The innocence and almost simplicity he delivers as Coffey is just wonderful when you watch this giant of a man who really wouldn't hurt a fly. But then at the same time he manages to deliver the supernatural part, the miracle working with a brilliant sense of mystery making it a wonderful performance. And whilst Doug Hutchison maybe playing the bad guy as young guard Percy Wetmore the sadistic and cowardly nature he brings to Percy is stunning to make him a character you want to hiss out but at the same time watch.
What this all boils down to is that "The Green Mile" is another brilliant movie and a great follow up for director Frank Darabont having already delivered "The Shawshank redemption". At 189 minutes it is bloated and could have been cut down by at least a quarter but it never becomes dull or bum numbing thanks to Darabont's grasp on telling the story and building the characters. And whilst the book ending of the movie ends up as a bit too much padding the story of John Coffey and his time on The Green Mile is brilliant.