Tim Robbins and the
instrumental Rita Hayworth poster.
The Shawshank Redemption is a movie about a really smart guy who did a really dumb thing and spent the next twenty years suffering as a result. That guy is Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), and the dumb thing he did involves a murder he didn't commit (maybe). When his wife and her golf-pro lover turn up dead, Dufresne, a rich New England banker, is the obvious suspect. Unfortunately, he threw his unused gun (the one that matches the calibre of the bullets found in the bodies) in the river before it could be used to prove his innocence. As viewers, we're all supposed to believe that Andy didn't do it, but off to jail he goes, so that our movie can begin.
Once at the Shawshank prison, Andy meets his fellow inmates, in particular a man named Red (Morgan Freeman). This convict can get anything smuggled into the prison, so long as you're willing to pay his price. Red is fascinated by Andy's strength of character: he never gives up hope that life will get better, despite the heaps of abuse that he suffers at the hands of the guards and other inmates. The two men eventually form a friendship that sees them both through the worst times of their lives. In the end, Andy shows the entire prison population what can be accomplished with the application of sheer will.
Shawshank is one of Stephen King's better stories, and it's certainly one of the two best movies made from his work (the other being Kubrick's The Shining). Given that most movies made from King stories (and heck, most novels in general) turn out to be crap, it's a marvel that this writer has lucked out as often as he has. Whatever guardian angel dropped the ball on Trucks, The Lawnmower Man, and Children of the Corn was looking out for ol' Steve with The Shawshank Redemption.
The acting in Shawshank is just about flawless. Tim Robbins strikes all the right notes as the somewhat enigmatic Andy. It is also probably a great help to this movie that Robbins is so charismatic. Morgan Freeman is absolutely terrific as usual -- we think he's one of Hollywood's greatest modern actors. (But then, we've loved him since Electric Company on PBS.) You'll probably also recognize Gil Bellows from his recent appearance as Billy on Fox's Ally McBeal, and of course Bob Gunton (as the warden), one of those character actors who is really getting around these days.
I do love that prison food!
Despite the fairly good story and the terrific acting, there is one aspect of this movie that doesn't ring true. Around the middle of the film, a character comes forward with testimony that Andy may not have shot his wife, contradicting the rather large mound of evidence that led to his conviction in the first place. However, if Andy didn't kill his wife, it makes the title of the movie nonsensical. How can Andy find redemption if he never sinned? So then Andy tells us that he did cause his wife's death by driving her into having an affair, an affair that led to her being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is all far too convenient, and smacks of the screenwriter trying to have his cake and eat it too.
(A handful of astute readers have written in to say, "Hey guys, maybe the title refers to Red's redemption," which of course makes perfect sense. This shows you that even the obvious escapes us some times, and the abuse we've suffered at the hands of the more antagonistic letter-writers -- who always proclaim themselves as staunch lovers of this film -- has really rubbed it in.)
The Shawshank Redemption is a powerful film with a lot going for it. Some people will watch it repeatedly -- after all, prison movies with relatively happy endings are few and far between these days, and there are some particularly satisfying moments when Andy bests the prison authorities. In the end, though, the film's insistence upon portraying Andy as a saint became too heavy-handed to inspire the urge to see it again.