Film Nerd’s Choice: The Green Mile
Director: Frank Darabont
Cast: Tom Hanks, Michael Clarke Duncan, David Morse, Bonnie Hunt, James Cromwell, Michael Jeter, Sam Rockwell, Doug Hutchison
Synopsis: This is a period film that tells the story of the wardens and inmates on death row, the green mile of the title. John Coffey (Clarke Duncan) is the latest inmate, accused of raping and murdering two young girls, apparently having been caught red handed. As the wardens get to know him better (led by Hanks’ Paul Edgecomb), they discover that Coffey is far from ordinary, with an extraordinary ability to heal people by touch. Convinced he is innocent, can they go through with sending him to the electric chair?
It is very appropriate I choose this film as one to make me feel down. There are quite a few that make me cry, but many of those have endings that inspire hope or mean you can leave smiling. Atonement for me is certainly up there based on these criteria, and is worth of an honourable mention, but there is a film that for me has had an even longer lasting impact. The Green Mile does have a resolution, but the mood one leaves the film with is one of sombre reflection. The impact it had on me was deep, to the point that I made sure I watch it rarely so as to retain the impact it had on its first viewing.
To clarify a point, this film is heavily thematically Christian, however I do feel that it is still a film that can be enjoyed by anyone that either believes in a deity, or that at least respects other people’s desire to believe in a deity. I am raised a Christian, and though I have let my church attendance lapse and at times my world viewpoint is at odds with what Catholicism as an organised religion preaches, I do still have a core belief in God. The implication of the film is that Coffey is a gift from God, one of His miracles. So where does that leave the men that have a duty to kill him. It is a true moral dilemma, made harder by how sympathetically the character is portrayed. This was Clarke Duncan’s break out role, and he embraced the opportunity in his enormous hands. Coffey is physically imposing, yet has the mind of a child, and takes a child like delight in simple beauty, such as the stars in the night sky. Acts of violence and hate are incomprehensible to him. It is a true reflection that goodness and morality are not the realm of the intellectual or those that can identify the grey areas. I leave the film thinking that we spend so much time on clarifying what is grey that we have forgotten that good and evil are as disparate as oil and water. An inability to see the grey could indeed be the key to making the most moral choices.
Hanks is of course the other shining light in this film. His performance is largely understated, yet he shows great emotional depth and anguish in a man who has a responsibility to remain calm and minimally responsive. It is a skill Edgecomb has clearly had to learn, working around men who know the date and minute of their final breath. He can make the decision when a firm hand is needed to quell a disturbance, or a gentle discussion to help these men prepare for their final moment. The film is also deftly handled by Darabont, who was so stellar in bringing another Stephen King story to screen with even greater success, The Shawshank Redemption. Clearly the pen of the writer and the eye of the director here is a fruitful collaboration.
If you are not of a personality to seek a film that does not leave you smiling, this film would be very hard going. Yet the messages within and the thematic issues addressed are all relevant to today’s society, especially as some areas still endorse the death penalty. You may not want to see it again, but you are only robbing yourself if you refuse to see it at all.
4 stars out of 5