The Green Mile – 1999
This was an incredible movie. But this shouldn’t come as a surprise to me. The original story was written by Stephen King, and the film was directed by Frank Darabont, two facts that are also true of one of my favorite movies of all time, the Shawshank Redemption. I know this combination is not always a reliable barometer from one film to the next, but in this case, it works.
I loved The Green Mile because it had an incredible cast, a great score by Thomas Newman, wonderful art direction, and a story that was close to perfection, neatly tying up all the loose ends and yet leaving us with a sense of power and mystery. The pacing was spot-on, the special effects were awesome, and the sense of justice and satisfaction that the viewer is left with at the end is inspiring. It was just great entertainment. It made me think and it made me feel, which is exactly what movies are supposed to do.
Tom Hanks led the cast as Paul Edgecomb, a supervisor in a Louisiana penitentiary. He and the men serving under him work death row, called the green mile because of the green tile of the floor which lead from the cells to the electric chair. His men include Brutus, played by a personal favorite of mine, David Morse, Jeffrey DeMunn as Harry, Barry Pepper as Dean, and Percy, played by Doug Hutchison. Percy is the problem case. As much as I hated his character, as I was supposed to, I have to admit that Hutchison played him absolutely perfectly.
The death row inmates were Del, surprisingly played by Michael Jeter, Graham Green as Arlen, Sam Rockwell as Wild Bill, and Michael Clarke Duncan as John Coffey. These characters could have so easily been throw away characters, but they each had their own distinct and well-thought-out personalities. And it was John Coffey that was the crux of the entire film. It was he who moved all the movie’s drama and Duncan played him brilliantly.
Coffey was referred to as one of God’s miracles. He was a black giant of a man who was on death row for the murder of two young girls. He was mentally challenged and yet gentle as a lamb. But he was also telepathic, empathic, and had the power to heal sickness and disease. If he found a victim quickly enough, he could even raise them from the dead. He could see into the hearts of men and know them as good or evil. He cured Paul of a rampant bladder infection, and restored life to Del’s pet mouse, Mr. Jingles, who had been cruelly stepped on by Percy.
The rest of the amazing plot is really too complex, and yet exquisitely crafted, to go into in this review. Suffice to say, the characters, both the prison guards and the inmates, all get what they deserve in the end. The phenomenally evil and unrepentant Percy gets his just deserts in a horrifying and yet incredibly satisfying way. Wild Bill, who apparently was the real rapist and murderer behind the crime for which John was in prison, is shot to death in his cell. And John is granted death in the electric chair.
“What?!?” you may ask. Why was the innocent gentle giant allowed to die? Because his incredible telepathic powers left him vulnerable to the evil in the hearts of his fellow men. It was a power over which he had very little control, a power which assaulted him whether he wanted it to or not. In the end, when Paul learns of his innocence, he offers to let him go, knowing that it would cost him his career and quite possibly land him in jail, himself. But after John had used his powers to heal Paul’s friend’s wife from a brain tumor, he asks to be allowed to die, to end the suffering his powers cause in him.
All the performances in this movie were exceptional. I point out Michael Clarke Duncan, Michael Jeter, who I am only used to seeing in comedic roles, and who turned in a perfectly played tragic character, and Doug Hutchison as stand out members of the cast. But I also have to make mention of some other great supporting cast members like James Cromwell, Gary Sinise, Patricia Clarkson, William Sadler, and Bonnie Hunt. All of them did a great job and deserved to be recognized.
There were some very powerful and intense scenes in the movie that really stand out in my mind as impactful, both morally and emotionally. The horrific scene in which Percy cruelly, yet purposefully botches Del’s death in the chair, the scene in which John heals the sick woman, and the significant scene in which John transfers some of his power into Paul so that he can see Wild Bill’s true guilt for himself, important because it is eventually revealed that the power has the unexpected side effect of drastically slowing down his natural aging process, were all so well-portrayed and so perfectly directed. This movie was truly a masterfully crafted film, both in the way it was written and in the way it was made. It was such a phenomenal movie, one which I highly recommend!