#196) The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
OR “The Internet’s Favorite Movie”
Directed & Written by Frank Darabont. Based on the novella “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” by Stephen King.
Class of 2015
The Plot: Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) arrives at Shawshank State Penitentiary in 1947 after being convicted of murdering his wife and her lover. Andy keeps to himself for the first month or so, but finally starts talking to fellow inmate “Red” Redding (Morgan Freeman), who is responsible for smuggling items into the prison. Over the next 20 years, the two men form a lasting friendship, while Andy makes the most of his time in Shawshank, revitalizing the library following the release of Brooks (James Whitmore) and staying on the good side of corrupt Warden Norton (Bob Gunton). And somehow a rock hammer and a Rita Hayworth poster feature prominently in all of this.
Why It Matters: The NFR highlights the score by Thomas Newman, as well as the performances of Freeman and Robbins, “highlighting the abiding resilience of the human spirit”.
But Does It Really?: Oh yeah. In less than a quarter century “Shawshank” has gone from commercial flop to cult favorite to all-time classic. “Shawshank” may be the best adaptation of a Stephen King work ever. The film is “just people talking” for 2 ½ hours, but everything from the acting to the directing to the cinematography holds your interest. The film lures you in with Robbins’ enigmatic performance and Freeman’s warmth, and the further along you go, the more compelling and gratifying the viewing experience is. “Shawshank” is one of the rare films that deserved a second chance, and got it. Kudos to everyone involved.
Shout Outs: Frank Darabont cites “Goodfellas” as an influence on the film. But the most notable NFR reference is the clip from “Gilda” that sets a plot point in motion.
Everybody Gets One: Almost everyone, primarily Frank Darabont and composer Thomas Newman. Amazingly, this is the only one of Stephen King’s film adaptations to make the Registry (though I’m still holding out for “Carrie”**).
Seriously, Oscars?: Despite its now-legendary tank at the box office, “The Shawshank Redemption” managed seven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. But “Forrest Gump” was the film to beat that year, and “Shawshank” went home empty-handed. In addition to “Gump”, “Shawshank” lost Sound to “Speed” and Cinematography to “Legends of the Fall” (the first of Roger Deakins’ 13 unsuccessful bids before finally winning this year). And although Morgan Freeman garnered a well-deserved Best Actor nomination, Tim Robbins equally impressive (if somewhat more restrained) work didn’t make the cut. And where’s the Best Supporting Actor nods for James Whitmore and Bob Gunton?
- The film is quite faithful to the novella. The main difference is that the multiple wardens in the book are condensed into one character for the film.
- Speaking of, the only major Stephen King trope this film has is its Maine setting. No alcoholic writers or unexplained psychic powers to be found here.
- This week on “Hey, It’s That Guy!”: Jeffrey DeMunn as the prosecuting attorney in the opening credits. Yeah, that guy! He also wins the Best Timing award; his name shows up in the credits while he’s on screen.
- That’s Morgan Freeman’s son Alfonso as young Red in his file photo. In addition to being Morgan’s assistant on this film, Alfonso appears as a prisoner during the “fresh fish” scene.
- The character of Red was written as white, with the likes of Harrison Ford and Paul Newman being considered. Thanks to some colorblind casting, Morgan Freeman is an inspired choice in the role that defined his screen persona. It’s refreshing to see an African-American in a role in which his race isn’t a factor, and whose casting was not some mandated Affirmative Action. (Pssst, you should do that again, Hollywood. A lot.)
- I assume James Whitmore is in prison on a count of being too adorable.
- Having recently filed my taxes, I feel Byron Hadley’s pain.
- Doesn’t this just feel like a movie Michael Shannon should be in? What was he up to back then?
- The film is episodic to be sure, but it works because every episode builds upon the last one. It has a very organic flow from one to the next.
- And then we arrive at the “Marriage of Figaro” scene. It’s just perfect. And perhaps the greatest scene in any film to end with a record scratch.
- Man, all of that punishment for Dufresne because the Warden won’t admit he doesn’t know what the word “obtuse” means.
- The ending makes me laugh with joy every time. I just feel sorry for whoever had Andy’s cell before him. If only he had spent more time carving into the walls.
- 500 yards is not “just shy of half a mile”, but Morgan Freeman said it with such natural conviction that you didn’t even notice.
- Do I believe the Christ allegories that the Internet keeps pushing on this film? Well, I got a lot of “Cool Hand Luke” vibes throughout my viewing, so by proxy I kinda see it.
- “Shawshank” became a hit on home video when Warner Bros. sent a large amount of videocassettes to distributors following the film’s Oscar nods. The film’s status was also boosted by frequent cable airings due to its relatively inexpensive broadcast rights. To this day, TNT plays it at least 12 times a day. In fact, the odds are pretty good it’s playing on TNT right now. Go ahead, check your local listings.
- Frank Darabont has only directed two films since “Shawshank”, and they’re both Stephen King adaptations: “The Green Mile” and “The Mist”.
- This film is the reason Morgan Freeman is now required to narrate every film he’s in.
- Tim Robbins followed this up by directing his own look at the prison system, “Dead Man Walking”.
- The “Shawshank Tree” in Lucas, Ohio was a popular tourist spot for many years until it was finally blown down by strong winds in 2016.
- “Family Guy” can be hit or miss, but their “Shawshank” spoof is pretty great, especially the last joke.
Listen to This:The National Recording Registry announced their 2017 selection a few weeks ago. Among the 25 entries was “If I Didn’t Care” by The Ink Spots, which, coincidentally, appears in the opening moments of “Shawshank”.
** 2018 Update: They went with “The Shining”. I should’ve seen that one coming.