The Shawshank Redemption

The Shawshank Redemption photo starrating-5stars.jpg“They send you here for life, and that’s exactly what they take.” — Ellis Boyd ‘Red’ Redding

So laments Red (Morgan Freeman) as he reflects upon his duration at Shawshank State Penitentiary. He is in jail for murder. The “only guilty man” there he informs us as narrator. The year is 1947 and banker Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) who has been convicted of murdering his wife and her lover, has just been admitted. He has been given two consecutive life sentences. Based on the Stephen King novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, the tale recounts a 20 year friendship between the two men. It is a story that is undeniably powerful as a moving portrait of camaraderie.

You’d be hard pressed to find a more genuine ode to male bonding than this drama spanning two decades from 1946 to 1967. When Andy arrives, he is subject to beatings, humiliation and all manner of horrors within the prison system. He endures the harassment seemingly unfazed. Slowly he learns to adapt, utilizing his talents as an auditor to garner favor from the powers that be. In time he inspires his fellow inmates, making friends with them, in particular Red. This is the same inmate that had originally bet Andy would be the first inductee to crack upon arriving.

The film is highlighted by several superlative performances. Morgan Freeman rightfully earned an Academy Award nomination for his role as Red, our narrator. He embodies the character with reverence, heart, and warmth. Freeman has never been better and that is saying quite a lot of the 5 time nominated actor who would ultimately win an Oscar for Million Dollar Baby. Tim Robbins is every bit his equal in a role that is more difficult to warm up to. If the actor appears a bit of an enigma, that is only because the character is meant to be that way. There is a quiet stoicism to his performance that recalls the great Gary Cooper. Actor Bob Gunton is a villain for the ages as Warden Samuel Norton. A stern man that exploits the prison for his own gain as low-cost labor. He presents himself as a god-fearing man, although his true nature is gradually disclosed. The depth of his evil seems to know no bounds. His reaction regarding testimony from young convict Tommy Williams is particularly memorable.

The Shawshank Redemption is one of those movies whose estimation has only grown with time,. It wasn’t a box office hit in 1994, barely making back it’s production budget when initially released. However it was a critical success and received 7 Academy Award nominations of which it won absolutely NOTHING, losing Best Picture to Forrest Gump.  Nevertheless, it has occupied the #1 slot as greatest film on the IMDb’s user-generated list since 2008. Like a flower that grows through a crack in the concrete, the narrative is filled with one uplifting note after another amongst the most oppressive of surroundings. There are many, but here’s my personal favorite: Andy’s letter writing efforts to secure a better library for the prison are finally rewarded with a collection of old records. In an act of defiance, Andy locks himself in the warden’s office and using the central microphone, blasts an opera record. As Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro echoes through the penitentiary, Roger Deakins cinematography captures the emotion as the inmates look upwards, embracing the audible gift. I can’t exactly describe the feeling, but the scene always reduces me to tears. Shawshank is brimming with moments like this where the human soul triumphs over adversity in the most inspiring way.

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17 Responses to “The Shawshank Redemption”

  1. I absolutely love Shawshank, but I haven’t had the opportunity to see it in the cinema although I can imagine I’d love it even more. Some people are surprised when I tell them that this is my favourite, expecting me to say The Godfather or Citizen Kane etc. But there are so many scenes that resonate in the memory long afterwards, such as the Mozart, the inmates drinking beer on the roof ‘like free men’ or the long crescendo towards the beautiful finale which I don’t think has ever been bettered in the emotional stakes for me. Shawshank is a very personal film that goes way beyond a great story with fantastic actors and a wonderful soundtrack by Thomas Newman. Great review for a great film!

    • The Shawshank Redemption is a commendable pick as your favorite film. Depending on my mood, I often give it as mine.

      I would accept The Godfather as your choice as well but not Citizen Kane. It’s undeniably a great film, but I bristle when anyone born after 1950 claims it is their favorite movie. It always sounds like they’re just trying to impress me.

      • Exactly, same here. I’m aware of the high regard that Citizen Kane has, but it is far from my favourite as I don’t have a connection with it – that’s far more important to me than any high technical quality.

  2. Omg I had absolutely no idea this won zero Oscars. Whenever I think of the best of the best between films during Oscar season, I always revert back to Shawshank and Forrest Gump. Haven’t really had two movies as impacting since in one year…

  3. Great review. I’d love to see this one at the cinema. That scene you describe is absolute bliss.

  4. martin250 Says:

    good review Mark. i have to see this film again. last time i watched it was on dvd many years ago and it never left a big impression on me. i remember some scenes i liked- the men on the rooftop given beer by the guards, the scene you mentioned about the opera record, and the ending meet. i bought the blu ray on a very good price today. shall watch it soon.
    ps. am curious as to why you are bothered that Citizen Kane could be claimed as anyone’s favorite. will read your review on it shortly.

    • Don’t get me wrong. Citizen Kane is a great movie, but it’s not even Welles’s best film. Film students love it because it revolutionized film techniques. However it‘s not the kind of picture anyone born after 1950 would truly choose as their favorite unless they were trying to impress someone.

      It’s part of the reason why it was replaced by Vertigo as greatest film of all time in Sight & Sound’s poll back in August 2012.

  5. Love this movie. Especially that one Marriage of Figaro scene. Absolutely beautiful.

    Envoyé de mon iPhone

    >

  6. One of the greatest movies ever! It was so awesome to revisit this classic on the big screen. There are too many awesome scenes to list. If you haven’t seen this, you must! 5 stars

  7. “Shawshank is brimming with moments like this where the human soul triumphs over adversity in the most inspiring way.”

    Amen, Mark. This is one of the most affecting and impacting dramas I remember seeing. As you say, never before has a film managed to capture male bonding quite so well. Just a brilliant movie – this one.

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