Warner Bros. // 1999 // 188 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Nicholas Sylvain (Retired) // June 9th, 2000
"Miracles are funny things. You never know when they are going to
happen, and when they happen in a place like this, that's the most unbelievable
miracle of all. This is the story of a miracle that happened here, where I work,
on the Green Mile."
-- Paul Edgecomb
A tale of inexorable, bitter tragedy and human decency under the most extreme of circumstances, The Green Mile will move you to laughter and more often to tears with its lyrical beauty and power.
Do yourself a favor. Don't compare The Green Mile to The Shawshank Redemption, even though you can draw any number of links and parallels between these two films. With the bad luck to be made second, The Green Mile is bound to suffer in comparison to its beloved predecessor, and that is simply unfair. The Green Mile stands apart, covering a different swath of cinematic territory with its own patient style of navigation. Whether this makes The Green Mile better or worse is a subtle question of taste that I cannot answer, except to say that this is simply a different film that appeals to me on its own merits.
A story about matters of faith and conscience, of men struggling to retain their humanity even as their job is the execution of the condemned, of redemption and retribution, The Green Mile packs an emotional wallop that is as powerful as it is unavoidable. Previous experience with the novel does not help to mitigate its effects, for I knew every plot twist, every moment of pathos and drama, and still Frank Darabont played with my emotions like an expert, leaving me inexpressibly moved and drained as the credits rolled. Just watching the excellent trailer gets my emotions going again!
Even though I had long ago devoured the Stephen King serial novel from which writer/director/producer Frank Darabont produced his Oscar nominated screenplay, I was glued to the screen for every moment of The Green Mile. There are many moments in its three hour plus running time, but my wife and I agree that The Green Mile is the shortest three hour movie we have had the pleasure to watch. I felt almost as if I was watching a novel unfold, page by page, as unable to tear my eyes away as I was unable to put down the book. This feeling is quite accurate, as the film is as faithful an adaptation of a novel as I have seen in a long, long time. For better or for worse, the book is the film and the film is the book. I loved the novel, I treasure The Green Mile. Were the craftsmanship any less, I might get cranky about the over-used cliché of the wrongly-imprisoned man popping up yet again, but it hardly seems like a substantial fault here.
Set in the sweaty confines of the death row (nicknamed "the Green Mile" for its faded green flooring) at Cold Mountain Penitentiary in Louisiana in 1935, The Green Mile begins with a horrible crime. Klaus Detterick (William Sadler -- The Shawshank Redemption, Die Hard 2) finds his two daughters brutally murdered with a great hulk of a man, John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan), sitting over their bloody corpses, howling with inarticulate pain. Soon the giant is condemned to death as a murderer and transported to "the Green Mile."
In charge of the death row is Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks), whose friends and colleagues include Brutus Howell (David Morse -- The Negotiator, Contact, The Crossing Guard), Harry Terwilliger (Jeffrey DeMunn -- X-Files: Fight the Future), and Dean Stanton (Barry Pepper -- Saving Private Ryan, Enemy of the State). Inmates and guards alike detest the other member of the Mile team. Percy Wetmore (Doug Hutchison) is "mean, careless and stupid," but who owes his job to being the only nephew of the Governor's wife.
In addition to John Coffey, the inhabitants of the Mile include Arlen Bitterbuck (Graham Greene -- Dances with Wolves, Maverick), Eduard Delacroix (Michael Jeter -- Mouse Hunt, Patch Adams, Jakob the Liar), and a curious, friendly mouse named Mr. Jingles. However, Arlen Bitterbuck's date with the electric chair looms, so the team begins the disquieting task of rehearsing their roles in the execution, with the gallows humor assistance of a prison trustee, Toot Toot (Harry Dean Stanton). This would weigh heavily enough on Paul, but worse still are his persistent, excruciatingly painful urinary infection and the knowledge that Melinda (Patricia Clarkson), wife of his friend and boss, Warden Hal Moores (James Cromwell -- Babe, Star Trek: First Contact, L.A. Confidential), is slowly dying from an incurable brain tumor.
No sooner than Arlen Bitterbuck departs the Green Mile than "Wild Bill" Wharton (Sam Rockwell) arrives. Crafty, crazy, and plumb mean, "Wild Bill" lives up to his sobriquet from the very first day until his last. Once this new prisoner is finally squared away, Paul Edgecomb is left in the throes of agonizing pain from a flare-up of his infection. Amidst the torment, John Coffey reaches out to Paul Edgecomb and with a miracle touch, the affliction vanishes, as does the terrible pain. Paul is both grateful and mystified at the power of John Coffey, and begins to further investigate the circumstances of the crime which condemned his healer.
Next comes the execution date for Eduard Delacroix, and this time Percy Wetmore strikes a deal with Paul Edgecomb. If Paul puts Percy in charge of Eduard Delacroix's execution, then Percy will have his connections at the state capitol transfer him to a cushy administrative job at another prison. Wishing nothing more than to be rid of the obnoxious Percy, Paul reluctantly agrees. By this time, Mr. Jingles has become an inseparable companion to Eduard Delacroix, so when Percy cruelly kills Mr. Jingles, it is up to John Coffey to complete his second miracle. Eduard goes to his fate knowing that at least his beloved Mr. Jingles will carry on. Sadly, the death of Eduard Delacroix is an abomination beyond words, thanks to the deliberate, sadistic sabotage of Percy Wetmore.
Paul's mind continues to dwell upon Coffey's miracles, and upon Melinda Moores' rapidly deteriorating condition. There is only one course of action to him, which he outlines to his friends Brutus, Harry, and Dean during a picnic lunch at his house. With their jobs, their very freedom at stake, they all resolve under Paul's strong leadership to sneak John Coffey out of Cold Mountain prison and bring him to the Melinda Moores bedside in the hope that a fine woman could be saved from her fate. Only Percy, whose transfer is not yet complete, stands in the way...but our heroes have a plan that removes that particular irritant as a problem. Their midnight mission to the Moores household takes Hal Moores totally aback, but his desperation to save his wife compels him to let the strange party into his house and have their way.
With John Coffey's third miracle complete, The Green Mile draws near to its conclusion. Percy Wetmore receives his transfer and an astonishing comeuppance, and Paul Edgecomb must wrestle harder than ever before with his conscience as the execution date for John Coffey comes nearer, day by day. That final day stands as the bleakest of the bleak in the long, long life of Paul Edgecomb, one for which he spends the remainder of his life trying to atone.
Tom Hanks (You've Got Mail, Saving Private Ryan, Apollo 13) shows us yet again why he is a premiere actor. With a screenplay and a novel that provide only modest character development, he takes the brief outlines of Paul Edgecomb and creates a fundamentally decent human being, possessing great strength of character, a clear moral compass, and a willingness to act for the greater good, but with the doubts and hesitations of a truly human being. As alluded to in the featurette, this masterful acting by Tom Hanks facilitated the justly recognized performance of Michael Clarke Duncan, who received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He must play Coffey as simple and unsophisticated, but yet intelligent and perceptive in a delicate balancing act.
While the rest of the stellar cast is a fine group, a few stand out above the crowd. Doug Hutchison (perhaps best known for playing the stretchable Tooms on The X-Files) positively oozes evil as sadistic guard Percy Wetmore and Harry Dean Stanton (Alien, Christine, Pretty in Pink) is oddly humorous as prison trustee Toot-Toot. Sam Rockwell (Galaxy Quest) has just that mix of evil and insanity that really makes my skin crawl. I also was pleased to see Patricia Clarkson, whose quiet charm I have liked ever since The Untouchables and The Dead Pool.
The anamorphic video is uniformly excellent. Colors are well saturated, and at one point where the old folks don brightly colored jackets seem perhaps just a hair too saturated. Blacks and shadow detail are solid, the sharpness strikes the right balance between harshness and softness, and the picture is free of all forms of distracting artifacts, dirt, or film defects. A few outdoor shots reveal noticeable, grainy video noise, usually limited to the sky, but these moments pass quickly.
The audio performs superbly in carrying out the primary demands of The Green Mile, which are to reproduce the vital dialogue from the loudest shout to the smallest whisper, convey the emotional power of the music, and give us the atmospheric clues for our dramatic environment. The soundtrack may not rock your walls (except for a number of thunderclaps), but it should give your heart a few wrenching tugs.
The extra content is limited, but on the bright side, there is more here than there was on The Shawshank Redemption. In addition to the common cast & crew bio/filmography section, there is a high-quality theatrical trailer for The Green Mile (in Dolby Surround) and a ten minute featurette, "Walking the Mile." A pity the featurette is so short, but as these things go, this is very good.
Given the length of the film and the limitations of an RSDL disc, I think the lack of extra content on The Green Mile is excusable. Of course, Warner could go the two disc special edition route, but given their attachment to the snapper case, I can understand their decision even if I wished it had been different.
One true criticism is that the menus are afflicted by severe artifacting, making them far from the cool, crisp art that we would like. I get the feeling that Warner hired a low-budget menu factory to pinch a few pennies. Tsk, tsk. Go hire 1K Studios next time!
Though not a criticism of the film or the disc, I feel that I should also take this moment to rebut the criticisms that I have read about the whole John Coffey character pandering to the worst racial stereotypes. I cannot comprehend how people could make such absurd statements! To make this story work, John Coffey needs to be a contradiction, namely someone who upon first glance whose intimidating size and physical ability make him more than able to kill. However, Coffey must also have a gentleness of body and soul that is utterly at odds with his surface appearance. This is not a stereotype; this is just John Coffey. I think that those who go looking for racial stereotyping in The Green Mile already have an agenda.
If you can stand a movie that can evoke deep feelings, and do not mind the occasionally grim or gruesome scene, then you simply must at least rent The Green Mile. It is not for the sensitive or the depressed by any means! I equally endorse a purchase ($25 retail), for while you may not slap The Green Mile into your DVD player on a whim, you may find yourself in the mood now and then. Sometimes we just need a way to release our pent-up emotions.
Anything short of acquittal for all parties would be a travesty of justice, though Warner Bros. would be well advised to reconsider its apparent stance against two-disc special editions. Court stands in recess -- I've got to catch the next show at Mouseville.
Review content copyright © 2000 Nicholas Sylvain; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 188 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Theatrical Trailer
* Cast and Crew Bio/Filmography
* Official Site