Danny Westhorpe, 23, Newcastle Upon Tyne.

• Film Reviews » The Shawshank Redemption

"Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free."

Frank Darabont's The Shawshank Redemption holds many distinctive merits. At the time of writing it is listed as the greatest ever movie on IMDb's Top 250 list, a feat it regularly repeats in similar lists put together by average-joe cinema goers and top critics alike. The American Film Institute has included it in several of their 100 Years... features and despite a mediocre box office performance in 1994, it was still nominated for seven Academy Awards.

Normally I find films with these amount of credentials to be overrated. The Godfather, for example, a good film but nowhere near as fantastic as I expected it to be. Similarly the original Star Wars trilogy – great, great films but in my opinion not spectacular enough to live up to the hype. In my book The Shawshank Redemption is the single greatest film ever produced. From storytelling and cinematography to music and dialogue, the film ticks box after box and is one of the few pieces of cinematic excellence that will stand the test of time.

For those unfamiliar with the plot, Tim Robbins plays Andy Dufresne, a man wrongly convicted and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences for the murder of his wife and her lover. Once housed at Shawshank State Penitentiary, he meets Ellis Boyd "Red" Redding (Morgan Freeman) and the two quickly strike up a deep and powerful friendship. From here on the film focuses on said friendship, as well as Andy's adjustment to his new life in prison.

Divulging more of the tightly woven plot would be a crime against first time viewers who deserve to experience the thrilling achievements and gut-wrenching setbacks of the characters for themselves. Speaking of characters, this is another area were The Shawshank Redemption really comes good. Anyone who's glanced at the promotional poster before or seen the DVD artwork will know that Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman star. Both put in outstanding performances with the latter gathering a Best Actor nomination at the 1995 Academy Awards.

The relationship between Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins grows stronger and stronger as the film goes on.
James Whitmore steals the show with one of the movies most tragic and beautiful scenes. Brooks was here.

Although Robbins and Freeman grab the headlines, the film has a small, strong string of secondary characters that more than deserve a mention. Bob Gunton (Warden Samuel Norton) has made a career playing strict figures of authority and uses that practice to great effect here. Despite his small stature and overly diminutive appearance, one look into those dark and uncaring eyes is enough to send a shiver down anyone's spine. In stunning contrast, one look at James Whitmore (Brooks Hatlen) will have you welling up with sympathy at an old man whose spent his life in prison and yet still has more to lose.

Clancy Brown and Gil Bellows pretty much complete the cast as chief of guards Capt. Byron Hadley and new prisoner Tommy William respectively. Six names of noteworthy mention may sound like a small roster, but the six talented men put so much power and grit into their performances that it more than makes up for it.

The film setting is stunning, even by modern day standards. Shawshank State Penitentiary has such a closed-in and bleak look about it that reality and fiction often blur into one and the feeling of being “institutionalized” seems to effect not only the prisoners, but the viewer as well.

With very little CGI or special effects and hard-hitting action sequences coming few and far between, The Shawshank Redemption relies on the simper things. Character development is rife with every prisoner having their own traits and identity, despite all wearing the same proverbial orange jumpsuits.

While most films tend to have one or two stand-out scenes, The Shawshank Redemption easily surpasses double figures in this territory. The drinking scene set on the roof of the prison is one of my personal favourites. The cons feels the warm sun on their backs as they sit sipping ice cold beers courtesy of Andy's intelligence while Morgan Freeman narrates with his deep and calming voice. It's rare moment of pure piece for a bunch of down and out men and you can't help but smile at what such a simple act means to all of them.

Another scene sees Andy introduce the prisoners to the music of Wolfgang Mozart. The Marriage of Figaro is played out over a loud-speaker, and the prisoners come together as one, to stand in silence and listen to a beautiful piece of music that's a million miles away from the usual tone of Shawshank. Showing the usually hectic prison stand in silence for several minutes was a wonderful touch from Darabont and adds great depth to an already great scene.

Apart from the one piece by Mozart, the score consists mainly of slow piano music that fits well with the general themes of the movie. The sound is never too dark or too cheerful – it's just their in the background. Never getting in the way of the plots development and almost always complimenting the scene well.

Bob Gunton packs a heavy punch as the corrupt, ruthless and remorseless Warden Samuel Norton.
"Andy Dufresne, who crawled through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side."

Like every film, The Shawshank Redemption isn't without its flaws. However unlike most films they come few and far between and don't take too much away from an otherwise perfect piece. There's a couple of scenes towards the middle of the movie that could be seen to drag. Maybe a film can only go so far before a bout of action is necessary, or maybe it's a subtle nod to the slow and same-ish routine that is prison life. There's also some debate about the dialogue. While most consider it to be thought-provoking and moving, some consider it a little over-the-top at times, verging on corny. I have to admit, I'm in two minds about lines like “no good thing ever dies”. However, this really is me picking at straws and for the vast majority of the movie the quotes are very touching.

All in all, The Shawshank Redemption is an essential viewing experience that should keep you captivated from beginning to end. Rent, borrow or buy this unique and dramatic gem that will forever go down in history as one of the greatest movies ever. You won't be disappointed.

Copyright © Danny Westhorpe, 2015. All rights reserved.
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