THE GREEN MILE - 1999
Ratings: Argentina, Netherlands, Switzerland: 16 / Australia: M / Belgium: KT / Chile, Ireland, UK: 18 / Finland: K-14 / France: -12 / Germany: 12 / New Zealand: R16 / Norway, Sweden: 15 / Portugal: M/16 / Singapore: PG / USA: R
It's probably not that difficult to understand why Stephen King is writing less horror
and more dramatic fiction these days. If you look at the way Hollywood
has treated his Horror stories, by and large with utter contempt, then
look at the way his less horrific stories have fared, nearly all have
been directed and produced with respect both for the story and the writer,
then it is pretty easy to tell which kind King would prefer to have for
his legacy. After innumerable sequels to crap like CHILDREN OF THE CORN,
SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK, THE LAWNMOWER MAN, ad nausea, it is refreshing
to see the actual GOOD Stephen King movie like STAND BY ME, MISERY,
DOLORES CLAIRBORNE, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, APT PUPIL, and now THE GREEN MILE.
THE GREEN MILE is a very short hallway that leads from the condemned
prisoner's cell, to his final destination in the electric chair. Surely
the longest mile in anyone's life. This mile is green because that is
the color of the floor tiles. Watching the trailers for this movie, you
might think that this story revolves solely around the life of one condemned
man, but that is not the case. This movie is about all of the people,
both prisoner and guard, who everyday walk THE GREEN MILE. It is a movie that, in turns, is often funny and
often poignant. Serious, despicable, heartbreaking, anger inducing, and
sweet. You will find yourself laughing at the antics of the most vile
characters and finding compassion for those you would never consider giving
a break in real life.
If you are a person that pays your money for a movie and then opens yourself TO the movie (after all, it was your money!),
you will find a story that flows into you without guile or fraudulent notions.
Like THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, Director/Writer Frank Darabont (A NIGHTMARE
ON ELM STREET 3: The Dream Warriors, THE
BLOB , THE FLY II ) man's the helm wearing two hats. By directing the screenplay he wrote, he has full command of the picture and must accept full responsibility
for it. In the case of THE GREEN MILE, it is a burden most fair.
Unlike the trailers for the movie, Darabont does not focus heavily on the miracles
and special effects or sappy "feel good" scenes. In fact, these
are kept to a minimum which works well by making them remain eventful and mysterious.
The story involves the head guard, the Captain of Death Row, Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks: HE KNOWS YOU'RE ALONE, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN). When we meet Paul, he is going through a very painful and severe case of urinary tract
infection. His problem is only exacerbated by the fact that he has been
forced against his will to accept a new guard on his block, Percy Wetmore
(Doug Hutchison: THE LAWNMOWER MAN), who delights in tormenting the already high-strung men who wait on death row,
as well as his fellow guards who work THE GREEN MILE. As such, Paul can never pull himself away from
the job long enough to drive out into town and visit the doctor. Percy
has family in the governor's mansion, giving him power by transference
(i.e. squeeling like a pig at a moment's grievance) and makes him pretty much invulnerable to the authority he should obey.
His superiors among the prison guards of this Great Depression-Era flick
are more than a little hesitant when it comes to Percy and the threat
of losing their jobs. Hutchison plays Percy as a despicable creep - a
petty, sadistic thing who requested his duty because his secret desire
is to see someone get killed "up close".
The biggest, meanest guard on the block is Brutus "Brutal" Howell (David
Morse: THE GOOD SON, THE LANGOLIERS, 12 MONKEYS, DOUBLE VISION).
But "mean" does not necessarily define itself as cruel. Howell
plays his role as a guard who will brook no crossing of regulations or
"The way things are done." He has a rationality in his intolerance;
a stern but fair taskmaster; and as such carries a certain amount of nobility
in his character. The juxtaposition between Brutus, who is stern and brutal,
and Percy, who is cruel and sadistic, is an excellent piece of writing.
Brutus has an ordered idea of the way things are done and can be quite
easy to get along with when the rules are obeyed - whereas Percy is unconcerned
with the consequences of his actions. So sure is Percy of his station
in life, he feels no reluctance in destroying everything around him for
his own momentary amusement. We can see by both Stephen King's writing
and Frank Darabont's direction that Percy is no different from the condemned
men whom he hates - and is probably worse.
The first inmate we meet is a Native American named Arlen Bitterbuck (Graham
Greene: DEAD INNOCENT, SHATTERED IMAGE). When we meet Arlen, he is the next man to walk THE GREEN MILE and as such, is consumed by his own remorse. We are never told what he did, but Greene handles his brief role with such incredible, silent depth that we feel the humanity in him that neither
his accusers or victim would probably ever know.
The next man we meet on The Mile is Eduard "Del" Delacroix (Michael Jeter: DEAD BANG). Del is a coon-ass Cajun and as such, has an offset sense of humor and a teasing ability to allow his heavy accent
to be as thick or as intelligible as he wants depending on his
mood. Despite the fact that he is a convicted murderer, Del also has an
almost child-like nature about himself, recognizable both by people and
by animals, as Del becomes the only man on the block that THE GREEN MILE's tiniest member, a mouse, will trust. THE GREEN MILE is not afraid to take its time telling a story, and the relationship that develops between Del, the mouse, and how the guards react to the relationship, is explored with great humanity. This
is all for the good as we know from the beginning that each man in his
cell will be put to death for his crimes. For us to retain our own sense
of place and self, it is important to us that we recognize the humans
inside the murderers.
Now comes the touchy part. Director/Writer Darabount could have taken Stephen King's
story and turned it into a PC diatribe against the horrors of Capital
punishment - but he didn't. The condemned men on death row are real people
who committed a serious crime. The guards who work The Mile (with
the exception of Percy) are also real people who have both a job
to do and a duty to the rest of us. To protect us from such men who, for
all their humanity, cannot control their urge to slaughter the rest of
us when the mood strikes them. We have seen that there are people just
as bad or worse than the murderers on THIS side of the bars in
the form of Percy Wetmore.
Enter William "Wild Bill" Wharton (Sam Rockwell: CLOWN HOUSE). Wild Bill is a crazed and sadistic murderer and has a personality that is every bit as vile as Percy, with one major difference. Percy is
a coward, a frightened rabbit that, in his befuddled belief, thinks cruelty
and indifference is a sign of his bravery. Wild Bill has no such pretensions.
Unlike Percy, Wild Bill is the real thing; a chaotic predator that Percy
wants to be, yet is terrified of, and Wild Bill knows it. Wild Bill is
brave not because he has someone who will watch over him, but because
he is just too stupid to realize the consequences of his actions. The
dance between these two carries a certain eventuality to it. Even so,
(for those who haven't read the story) who will emerge as the victor in their battle of wills becomes an unexpected
Finally we enter the imposing presence of John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan: PLANET OF THE APES , THE SCORPION KING).
This is the man who we met in the opening credits and whom the trailers
would have you believe has the whole movie orbit around him. Thankfully
this does not happen as Darabont saves his best tricks for last, allowing
only brief glimpses of John's abilities so the movie can build up to its
powerful conclusion. John, as we discover, has the power to cure people
of their ailments. He cures Tom Hank's character, Paul of his infection.
Because of his special gift, and the general way that the giant gentle
Coffey carries himself, Paul comes to believe that such a man cannot possibly
be guilty of the heinous crime for which he has been condemned, even though
the evidence is pretty hard to refute. When John explains the rape and
murder of the two little girls by saying cryptically, "I tried to
put it back boss, but I was too late." we can only imagine what sinister
circuit might be shorting in his head. Like Frankenstein's creature, we
are given to understand that the death of the two children could very
well be a case of accident due to the powerful physique of John, rather
than a crime of malicious intent. The fact that the two girls were raped
as well however, keeps our willingness to trust John Coffey at bay.
The casting by Mali Finn (TERMINATOR
2, 8mm, THE MATRIX) is wonderful. Yet again she has brought together an
incredibly talented and diverse group that were, each and every one, able
to breathe a genuine life into their characters. Mali has a perfect eye
for casting actors that have the talent to create incredible movies. If
there is one thing that stands out in my mind among her credits it is
remembering in this interview or that how happy the director was with
the actors in their movie.
Special recognition must also go to the smaller but very important roles as played by Harry
Dean Stanton (ALIEN),
Bonnie Hunt, and James Cromwell (STAR
TREK: First Contact, SPECIES II).
Frank Darabont has taken Stephen King's story, and has also taken the time, to reveal
himself as a master of prose with pictures. THE GREEN MILE is not a roller-coaster ride of special effects,
although it surely would have been in the hands of a lesser talents in
both writing and direction. THE GREEN MILE is instead an extraordinary achievement of storytelling
within a movie. A film which truly deserves the title of "classic"
and the attention of film students everywhere. The only problem I and
other audience members had with the movie was the prologue and the far
too long epilogue. In the words of Shakespeare "Your play needs no excuse."
Parents: make no mistake, this movie truly has its horrifying aspects and contains
scenes I wouldn't recommend for children. Pay attention to that "R" rating.
This is a Four Shriek Girl movie.
copyright 1999 E.C.McMullen Jr.
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