Writer/director Frank Darabont has apparently boxed himself into a rather unique corner. For his sophomore directorial outing, he follows his Stephen King period prison piece, The Shawshank Redemption, with yet another Stephen King period prison piece, The Green Mile. After the success of the first film, Darabont has gone a bit overboard with his second work. The Green Mile is good, but hardly worth a three hour epic.
Tom Hanks stars as Paul Edgecomb, the prison guard in charge of death row at Cold Mountain penitentiary. The floor of E Block is “the color of faded limes”, and hence, the trek through E Block to Ol’ Sparky, the electric chair, has been nicknamed The Green Mile.
The events of the film take place in 1935, and primarily center around one inmate: John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan). John is a monstrously huge, but apparently gentle, black man condemned to death for the brutal rape and murder of two little girls.
As strange and mystical events begin to unfold on The Green Mile, Paul, and the other guards (including David Morse, Barry Pepper, and Jeffrey DeMunn), begin to suspect that a greater power is at work, and that Coffey may not be what he appears. Could a miracle occur in this unlikeliest of places?
The first thing that separates The Green Mile from Darabont’s Shawshank Redemption is the magical aspect of his latest work, and it also is the primary trait that weighs down The Green Mile. Whereas Shawshank succeeded primarily on the merits of its characters, The Green Mile hedges its bets with a hefty reliance on the supernatural. From an unusual mouse (named Mr. Jingles) to various mystical occurrences, these happenings become a crutch used by the film to prop up its one-dimensional events.
The acting throughout The Green Mile is solid, without being spectacular. Tom Hanks once again provides a strong support for a talented ensemble cast. However, when the actors are given a key chance to shine, they rarely exceed average expectations. Michael Clarke Duncan, as well as two of the film’s traditional bad guys, Doug Hutchinson (as pampered guard Percy Wetmore), and Sam Rockwell (as crazy inmate Wild Bill Wharton), deliver adequate performances where excellent ones might be expected. Of the film’s large cast, only Graham Greene and Michael Jeter (as a few of E Block’s other inmate residents) make more than a fleeting impression.
Clocking in at over three hours of length, The Green Mile certainly feels long. While the film captures an overwhelming majority of the plot details of the novel, a few should have been trimmed.
Still, even with its excesses, The Green Mile packs an emotional wallop. It is a testament to Darabont’s skills as a screenwriter that even after three pokey hours, he can bring the film to such a good, solid conclusion.
There are surprisingly few messages of any deep import delivered throughout the course of the movie. For a film with such a prevalence of executions, you might suppose The Green Mile would take a stand on the death penalty. However the film is rather noncommittal on the subject, showing it to be brutal and unwarranted in some scenes, yet necessary and just in others. In the end, the strongest message of the film is the simple “appearances can be deceiving”. It does appear to be an apt message, however, as the appearances of The Green Mile would suggest an excellent film, and we are left with merely a good one.