I wrote this a while back on my blog, but it does sum up my thoughts rather nicely on my all-time favorite and #1,
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Sometimes writing about movies can be difficult, other times the words flow like a river in the country. The Shawshank Redemption falls somewhere in the middle, because I regard it so highly that it gives me so much to write about, so much in fact that I have trouble collecting my thoughts into a cohesive form. At this point I know that most of my readers are shouting, ďCohesive? When did you start writing cohesively?Ē That is most likely the truth, but let a man have his delusions, okay! Even though I could write a book about The Shawshank Redemption, and have honestly considered it, I will keep this review as concise as I can.
The first thing that should immediately get anyone who experiences The Shawshank Redemption is the simplicity of its message and its theme, but how complex that simplicity becomes when you try to break it down. The base message is one of hope, of a stoic reserve that allows you to overcome the impossible. But, when you dig deep into that message and watch how the movie handles the delivery of that message one canít help but marvel at the depth of the message. Hope in The Shawshank Redemption isnít a tangible matter, it isnít an issue at the forefront. Hope in The Shawshank Redemption is a periphery matter, something the inmates donít allow themselves, yet something every one of them must carry around with them. The Shawshank Redemption isnít heavy handed in its handling of its messages because it never takes the typical prison story route. Chicanery is implied, not every character is rotten, violence is seen from far away. The Shawshank Redemption takes a unique approach to prison life and that unique approach creates an interesting delivery system for the various messages in the film. There can be, and often is, a deep complexity in simple ideas and The Shawshank Redemption is the definition of that way of thinking.
It should go without saying by this point but Roger Deakins and any film equals epic win for the audience. The Shawshank Redemption is no exception, from the opening aerial shot of the prison to his wonderful use of muted tones and colors to create a drab look, Deakinsí cinematography adds texture and depth to The Shawshank Redemption. The film is beautiful to look at, it is highly depressing and ugly, but there is a beauty in how Deakins renders through his visual style and lighting choices the tone of the characters and what they are going through in their lives. Too often in film prisons are wide open, but even in the scenes where the characters have space to work with they are shot so that they are corralled into small spaces. The Shawshank Redemption is a very claustrophobic movie and in a lot of ways it is a horror movie. Scary monsters and creatures from the beyond arenít necessary for a horror tale, the loss of a mans freedom and the redundancy of life as the walls continually close in on him can be the worst of all horrors.
The music is yet another excellent factor of The Shawshank Redemption. The music isnít bombastic or loud, like the characters and the setting, it is quiet and muted. In short, the score sets the perfect atmosphere for what happens in the film. The score doesnít really stand out in any way, but it isnít meant to, the score in The Shawshank Redemption is meant to seep into the prison itself, to become a part of the prisoners daily life for the viewer.
In a film full of nothing but strengths, the direction and the acting may be the strongest of all. Frank Darabont did the near impossible with The Shawshank Redemption, he made an extremely slow moving story fascinating and captivating to watch. But beyond that, he made evil men guilty of terrible crimes into characters we care about. This was only possible because of the bravo performances from Morgan Freeman, Tim Robbins, William Sadler and James Whitmore as the prisoners along with Bob Gunton as the warden and the always awesome yet extremely underrated Clancy Brown as lead prison guard. They are human characters, they are evil, they fear, they have insecurities, they arenít just malicious caricatures, they have reasons for why they do what they do and we loathe or feel for them depending on the character. When Brooks leaves the prison we know what his fate will be and in the hands of a lesser director we wouldnít care about his ultimate fate, but we care because Darabont understands how to make us care.
I know my praise for The Shawshank Redemption is gushing, but I believe it is a film worthy of that type of praise. I have broken down this film numerous times, watched it more times than I can remember and it remains just as perfect today as it did when I first witnessed it. Whether it is the cinematography, the score, the acting, the story, the human drama or any other enticing factor, The Shawshank Redemption reaches its mark. I canít say much more, and I doubt many people havenít seen The Shawshank Redemption, but great messages always need to be heard and hope always springs eternal for anyone who hasnít seen The Shawshank Redemption to join everyone else in the experience.