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The Green Mile

A movie directed by Frank Darabont

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"Sometimes, Oh God, The Green Mile is So Long..."

  • Jul 14, 2009
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In the late 80's a young film maker named Frank Darabont paid Stephen King a dollar to adapt his short story "The Lady in the Room," into a short film when he was a student in film school.  King had a deal going where aspiring film makers could make short films out of his story for a dollar.  It was called a dollar baby.  Most times, King was disappointed with what was made.  Yet when it came to Darabont, he liked it and thought highly of it.  Years later Frank Darabont would secure the rights to "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption" and turn it into a movie he simply called "The Shawshank Redemption."  While Shawshank didn't do very well in the theaters it became a huge cult classic when it was nominated for Best Picture in 1995.  Stephen King is often delighted by the film.  King has since maintained a relationship with Darabont.  So was it any surprise that King had no problems letting Darabont adapt his next prison tale into a film? 

The Green Mile, as a story, probably stands out a little more than Shawshank for Stephen King fans.  This is primarily because to this day, there are a gaggle of people (even Stephen King fans) who have no idea The Shawshank Redemption was actually a story he wrote.  Yet The Green Mile is a very well known piece by the famed author.  The book was released in six different parts, each of which sold a million copies (and at one point all six appeared on the bestseller list at the same time).  It was a unique story which King thought up because he often has insomnia and tells himself stories to get to sleep (I'm not making that up).  One night he started reciting The Green Mile.  And soon it went from a story that replaced counting sheep to going on paper.  And when he was given the option to serialize it, he knew it would get finished no matter what.  The end result is one of King's most beloved tales.  And one of his best tales needed to make a good movie.  Who better than the guy who made The Shawshank Redemption? 

The Green Mile begins with Paul Edgecombe in the nursing home as a very old man.  When he gets together with a few other elderly people to watch a movie, it happens to be Fred Astaire singing "Heaven... I'm in heaven," from Top Hat.  This sends Paul into an emotional spiral.  In the midst of a friend trying to comfort him he finally decides to tell her the story about The Green Mile.  Every death row usually has the nickname of being the last mile.  Paul and his buddies called there's The Green Mile.

The movie then flashes back to the mid 1930's where Paul is working as a deathrow inmate (and is played by Tom Hanks).  He's a couple of friends to help him out such as Brutus Howell (played by David Morse), Dean Stanton (Barry Pepper) and Toot-Toot (Harry Dean Stanton).  But he's also got one more guy on his mile.  A guy who is the trouble maker.  His name happens to Percy Whetmore (Doug Hutchison).  Each character is portrayed very well. 

One day at the mile, as Paul tries to go to the bathroom and describes it as "Pissing razor blades."  Paul has a urinary tract infection, but he still tries to work anyway.  As he comes out of the restroom, he has a new person coming to the mile.  The man's name is John Coffey (played by Michael Clarke Duncan).  He's there because he's been charged and sentenced to death for the murder of two girls.  Who were also twins.  John Coffey doesn't talk much.  He's a really big, really tall man.  Despite how heinous his crime is as Paul read about it, Paul begins to wonder if John Coffey was really capable of killing anyone.  The big man cries a lot and is even scared of the dark.  Beyond that there is John Coffey's line, "I tried to take it back."  This has Paul befuddled.  But Paul comes to nurture him anyway.

And there are a number of interesting people on the mile.  There is Eduard Delecroix (Michael Jeter) who is a very methodical and thoughtful man.  Not too terribly bright, but likable nonetheless.  There is also Mr. Jingles... the mouse that Eduard enjoys a lot and has taught tricks to. 

It is when Paul's boys bring Bill "Wild Bill" Wharton (played by Sam Rockwell, who does a fantastic job!) that things get ugly... and better.  Wild Bill is a crazy guy who manages to fool Paul's boys into them thinking he's drugged.  But he isn't, and he happens to be very aggressive at what he does.  When the spectacle is over thanks to Brutal (who grabs a nightstick from Percy to do it) Paul needs a moment to rest.  And at this point, John Coffey calls over Paul.  When Paul does go over John Coffey puts his hands on him.  As a result of this man's touch, Paul Edgecombe is miraculously cured of his urinary infection.  As a result of this act of kindness, Paul is convinced that John Coffey couldn't possibly be a murderer.  And he is able to understand what John meant by "take it back." 

And to add to matters, there is also the Warden (James Cromier).  He has a wife who is terribly ill.  With John's power, Paul has an idea.  But beyond that, it is also that Paul is convinced that John Coffey is innocent.  Yet as the movie progresses and we too discover John Coffey is innocent, we come to realize that John Coffey is ready to leave and that he has his reasons. 

In terms of being an emotional movie, The Green Mile is one that can get the tear ducts going.  The ending is usually something that can get people boiling. 

One of Frank Darabont's strengths is as a writer.  Even more so than as a director.  His dialog comes off as natural, colorful and imaginary at the same time.  For those curious about whether or not it's like the book, it should be known that Frank Darabont takes quite a bit from King's book.  Some of it verbatum. I have feelings about comparing the two mediums.  As King himself has often said: "Books and Films are like apples and oranges.  Both are delicious, but also very different."  In short, there are some things that a film just can't do that a book can.  In my view, a movie that's exactly like the book isn't exactly a good movie because of this (see Stephen King's Pet Sematary or any TV movie based off King's work).  But a movie also isn't bad just because it doesn't follow the book (see Stanley Kubrick's version of The Shining).  For those who ARE picky about whether or not the film is like the book, they'll be pleased to know that Darabont is very faitfhful to King's book.

The performances are also quite well done.  While Michael Clarke Duncan is often showered with accolates, the real bread and butter is Sam Rockwell as Wild Bill Wharton.  Sam Rockwell is a very versatile actor in and of himself.  Yet here he really comes off as a sociopathic man.  That's not to say Michael Clarke Duncan does a bad job.  He does a really good job as well, but not well enough to be nominated for an oscar.  There's a joke in Hollywood that if you play a man of low educational standards (basically a stupid or retarded person) or a gay man you'll get an oscar nominee.  You might be convinced this isn't just a joke with The Green Mile.  Duncan did get an oscar nomination.  And while he didn't do a bad job, it is questionable seeing as how despite being a huge plot point, Duncan really doesn't do much in the film.  He talks with a southern accent and cures diseases, but there's not a whole lot of "action" he must take.  He does a good job, but whether or not it was Oscar worthy remains up for debate.  

If anything, the only thing we can really say is that Frank Darabont needs an editor.  Not to make sure shots match up and whatnot... but actually to make sure that Frank can make a short movie.  The Green Mile is a long film.  It's a fantastic film, but it is still long.  One of the things King was nervous about when The Shawshank Redemption was made was that people wouldn't stand for it.  He described it as being a movie that's nothing but dialog.  Nothing blows up or anything.  It's easy to see King having the same worries about The Green Mile.  The Green Mile is certainly more thematically driven than The Shawshank Redemption.  Another reason why The Green Mile gets a lot of criticism from top of the line critics.  When reading other reviews of The Green Mile, many criticisms thrown at the film were the same as what the "literary snobs" threw at Stephen King's novel.  The fact that it was "too simple" and that the initials "J.C." for John Coffey were too obvious of a reference to Christ.  I happen to agree with King when he says, "Come on, this isn't rocket science!"  And it's not.  Thematically, The Green Mile has a lot to swallow, but none of it is complicated or complex.

Another stint that comes up with a lot of people is the color of John Coffey's skin.  Browsing through reviews on Amazon it was clear that the choice of his color skin seemed to bother people.  There were many accusations thrown at Darabont and King that they were racists for supposedly stereotypiing a black man by having him framed and whatnot.  I disagree.  When it comes to issue of race in hollywood we can surely say that sometimes Hollywood overdoes it with their stereotypes (Michael Bay and Brett Ratner would be nothing if they couldn't rely on racial stereotypes--case in point Chris Tucker still has a job), but this isn't exactly one of those moments.  The film never plays on the color of John Coffey's skin.  It would appear that many people are just looking at the color of his skin and trying to draw something from it because in this kind of a role the color of John Coffey's skin must be significant thematically or otherwise.  The thing, however, is that King has never been much to make color or even character roles that thematically significant.  He merely writes what he sees in his head.  In this instance John Coffey just happened to be an innocent black man.  There's not much of a reason why King made him a black man.  But it certainly wasn't a racially motivated decision.  So relax, sit down, enjoy the movie and try not to think so hard.  This is an adaptation of a Stephen King novel, and has as been said several times... we do not read King or watch movies based off his works for intellectual stimulation.  We do it because we want to be entertained.

As far as movies based off King's work go... they're always funny.  You've got the good (The Shawshank Redemption, Stand By Me, Carrie, Misery) the mediocre but otherwise okay (Christine) and sometimes they're just plain bad (Children of the Corn, Pet Semetary, Dreamcatcher).  The Green Mile, luckily falls into the category of being one of the greats.  And not just as a King adaptation, but also as a just being a movie period.  It's emotionally driven and can even be thought provoking.  It's a movie that's memorable, from it's opening moments of being in Heaven with Fred Astaire, to the films final monologue: "We each walk our own mile, there are no exception.  But sometimes, oh God, the Green Mile can be so long!" 

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May 26, 2010
I did not realize that Shawshank was a King movie either; but the Green Mile, although extremely long, was interesting and wonderfully portrayed. I did have some tears at the end, along with some anger, that poor John was innocent and was put to death. I also was impressed at the very end when Tom Hanks talked about the cons of living forever, which I thought was very thought-provoking. Good review! Brenda
July 14, 2009
Wow...great review. I had no idea that Shawshank was a Stephen King story and didn't know any of the background of the Green Mile. Thanks for sharing all of that. Now that I know both films were made by the same guy, it makes sense because they share many awesome characteristics. You are absolutely right that this movie contained so many great performances.
More The Green Mile (movie) reviews
review by . May 15, 2009
In its simplest form The Green Mile is about an eye for an eye ... but when have you known Stephen King to be simple? Stephen King ... the man who gets paid fifty thousand dollars for writing "boo" on a napkin. Stephen King. In the beginning we meet an elderly gentleman who tells of his time working on "The Green Mile" Death Row for inmates in Louisiana's Cold Mountain Penitentiary. Shortly thereafter, we meet John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan) who was sentenced to death for the murder of two young …
review by . March 20, 2009
Pros: tight cast, wonderful performances, good story     Cons: none for me     The Bottom Line:   "And what are you being put to_death for today?   Is your family_here?   What was your last_meal?   Any last words for the_fans?   Longer you cling to_life-   More prizes for your_friends"   ~Lard     I must admit of all the movies I’ve seen over the years, The Green …
review by . September 06, 2000
Pros: Stellar performance by cast, good plot..     Cons: Racial undertones...     I didn’t know quite what to expect when I slipped Steven King’s The Green Mile into my DVD player. It is not often that works by Mr. King that later get turned into movies garner as much high praise and critical acclaim as this movie did. After watching this movie I am of two minds about my final assessment. On the one hand I thoroughly enjoyed the performances of all the actors …
review by . January 16, 2000
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: Great Story, Good Acting, WELL DONE     Cons: Kind of long, one really gross scene     The Green Mile astonished me. I had heard from friends that it was a good show. I had heard it was over 3 hours long. I had heard that it was touching and poignant. I heard it was a prison movie.      Stephen King. Death Row. Prison Movie. How do I get to touching and poignant from there? Well, I go and sit in the movie theater today for more than …
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Sean A. Rhodes ()
Ranked #7
I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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About this movie


Director Frank Darabont's second adaptation of a Stephen King prison tale (the first being 1994's nearly flawless THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION) is a hopeful charmer with a hint of the supernatural. The story focuses on Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks), a Louisiana security guard who works on death row during the Great Depression. When John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan), a gigantic black man convicted of raping and murdering two white girls, joins the other prisoners on the row, Paul's life is forever altered. Coffey doesn't fit the mold of a psychopathic killer; he's kind, gentle, and afraid of the dark. As the story progresses, Edgecomb learns that there is something more than simple goodness to Coffey. Building to a hopeful climax, Darabont once again proves that he is King's most loyal cinematic translator. The film features uniformly excellent performances in leading and supporting roles, notably Duncan as Coffey; David Morse and Barry Pepper as Hanks's fellow prison guards; and Michael Jeter as condemned kill...
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Director: Frank Darabont
Genre: Drama
Release Date: December 10, 1999
MPAA Rating: R
Screen Writer: Frank Darabont
DVD Release Date: June 13, 2000
Runtime: 3hrs 7min
Studio: Warner Bros Pictures, Castle Rock Entertainment
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