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The Green Mile(1999)
Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) is the head of the block guards during the 1930's at the Cold Mountain Correctional Facility. Through his many years of watching men live and die Paul's faith and sanity has deteriorated. He is assigned to watch over John Coffey (Michael Duncan), a giant man convicted of murdering two little girls. But John acts more like a child than a cold hearted murderer. Edgecomb and other guards (Morse and Pepper) find themselves in a moral dilemma when they witness John accomplish healing miracles.
For more about The Green Mile and The Green Mile Blu-ray release, see The Green Mile Blu-ray Review
Starring: Tom Hanks, David Morse, Bonnie Hunt, Michael Clarke Duncan, James Cromwell, Michael Jeter
Director: Frank Darabont
» See full cast & crew
The Green Mile Blu-ray Review
“We each owe a death, there are no exceptions, but sometimes, oh God, the green mile seems so long.”
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, October 16, 2009
When it was revealed that The Shawshank Redemption director Frank Darabont's follow-up project would be yet another period prison drama adapted from a Stephen King story, many looked forward to a spiritual successor to that that wildly beloved first film, while others shook their heads warily, wondering if Darabont was simply trying to once again catch cinematic lightening in a bottle. After all, The Shawshank Redemption's formula of nostalgia, emotional camaraderie, and unashamed hopefulness made it a wholly unexpected sleeper hit, one that has since served as a kind of comfort blanket for audiences, who project their own struggles onto those of the noble prison inmates played by Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. Of course, The Green Mile was never to match Shawshank's almost mythic resonance, but it is a striking companion piece, a bit of Hollywood-style magical realism that combines King's trademark folksy storytelling with Darabont's old-fashioned awe and wonder at the transportive power of filmmaking.
Based on King's serialized novel of the same name—the first serialized novel seen in America since the 1920s—The Green Mile is set on death row of Louisiana's Cold Mountain Penitentiary. Tom Hanks plays Paul Edgecomb, a good-hearted corrections officer who tries to maintain civility and grant his inmates a degree of respect. They are, after all, "dead men walking." One day, new prisoner John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan) is brought to the ward. He's a seven-foot tall, bald- headed behemoth of a man who's been convicted of raping and murdering two little girls. Only, his demeanor simply doesn't match what Paul normally expects from stone cold killers. Coffey is a meek man-child, timid and simple-minded, and he instantly earns our sympathy—perhaps manipulatively so—when he reveals to Paul that he's afraid of the dark. Coffey's closest fictional analog is Lenny from Of Mice and Men—from which King has also nicked the story's Depression-era setting—yet Coffey is no mere babbling idiot. He's got a God-given gift for healing, which he plies willingly, curing Paul's urinary tract infection, resurrecting a stamped-upon mouse named Mr. Jingles, and removing a tumor from the brain of the warden's wife. If Coffey represents everything that's good and kind about humanity, his polar opposite is Percy Wetmore (Doug Hutchison), a sadistic guard—he did the mouse stomping—who has a sick fascination with watching electric chair executions.
The story is more character-fueled than plot-driven, and Darabont takes his time spooling out the narrative, allowing us to build connections with the characters so we actually feel something when they a.) go to the electric chair or b.) are faced with unsettling moral decisions. And the cast is uniformly excellent, portraying a memorable array of personalities. Tom Hanks turns in a predictably dependable performance—he is to "good guy" what Christopher Walken is to "kooky freak"—but it's the surrounding players, character actors mostly, that make the film live and breath. Michael Jeter affects a perfect bayou French accent as Eduard Delacroix, the inmate who trains Mr. Jingles to push spools and stand on his hind legs. Sam Rockwell is maniacally violent playing "Wild Bill" Wharton, a certifiable psychopath. And both Barry Pepper and David Morse impress as fair but kind prison guards. The film's heart, however, is found in relative newcomer Michael Clarke Duncan's take as John Coffey. It's easy to overplay the simple-minded—note Tropic Thunder's controversial "full retard" monologue—but Duncan is sad-eyed, earnest, and empathy-inducing, all while staying wisely out of the realm of caricature. Though I appreciate the effort to craft well-rounded personalities instead of stock stereotypes, at over three hours The Green Mile runs much too long, giving the impression that the film thinks it's more earth-shatteringly important and thought-provoking than it actually is.
The story is frequently moving—in that big, tear-jerking, Hollywood kind of way—but I'm not really sure what it's about. Not that it has to be about anything, really, but The Green Mile is much more diffuse than The Shawshank Redemption, which is clear minded and powerfully forthright in comparison. Is the film a rumination of innate goodness in the midst of shame, violence, and degradation? Does it embed an anti-capital punishment message? Is it ultimately a story of sacrifice, as evidenced by John Coffey's symbolic initials? All of the above would be the tentative answer, and while there's nothing wrong with a film being thematically varied—a truly great film can encompass whole swathes of the human experience— The Green Mile's script could use some tightening and the film could stand to lose at least thirty minutes in the editing room. Still, there's something undeniably involving about the world that Darabont has created in The Green Mile, and I always find myself engaged in the film despite its longwindedness, willing to breath in its hazy air of Dust Bowl nostalgia and surrender to the film's magical mysteries.
The Green Mile Blu-ray, Video Quality
Much like The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile's memory play aesthetic lends itself to a color palette soaked in nostalgic honey brown tones, a warm and slightly stylized appearance bolstered by a solid, but not quite perfect 1080p/VC-1 encoded transfer. This is certainly the best the film has ever looked on home video, and I personally wouldn't hesitate to upgrade from the DVD, but there are a few slight issues that keep The Green Mile from being thoroughly impressive. Though the film has always had a strong sense of saturation and contrast, here primary colors can seem too strong at times—like old Mr. Edgecomb's red rain slicker or the yellow cast in young Paul's house—and black levels have a tendency to crush detail during some of the dimmer indoor scenes. Dark hair sometimes becomes a mass of solid black, sides of faces are lost to chiaroscuro shadows, and the lapels and pockets of the prison guards' deep navy uniforms are frequently indiscernible. How much of this is intentional is hard to say, but in all other ways, this is a winning transfer. Aside from a few soft shots, clarity is exceptional, with every pore, crease, and bead of sweat visible on Tom Hanks' face. I noticed some light edge enhancement during a few scenes, but you'd have to go out of your way to look for it. Film lovers will also be glad to hear that The Green Mile retains all of its natural and pleasing grain structure, which is thin enough most of the time that even the most virulent grain haters won't mind. And as the film fits nicely onto a 50-GB platter, you won't find any compression-related problems like banding or blocking. If it weren't for the occasionally too strong black levels I would probably be singing this transfer's praises, but even with the crush I found the film's picture quality to be warm, sharp, and inviting.
The Green Mile Blu-ray, Audio Quality
It might not be rife with bombastic, ear-pummeling, channel-panning sound design, but The Green Mile's Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track is dynamically solid, clean as a whistle, and modestly engaging. The rear speakers nearly always broadcast subtle ambient sounds—rain pours, thunder claps, birds chirp, crickets sing, chain gangs clank, and electricity zizzits ominously, a portent of lethal surges to come. Indeed, the electrocution scenes find this track at its most active and disturbing, with the buzzing hum of power mixed with squealing, frying, and crackling sounds not unlike bacon sizzling on a griddle. With the exception of some mumbled lines by Michael Clark Duncan, dialogue is crisp and clear, well prioritized even in the more sonically cluttered scenes (of which there are few). Actually, the track is quite impressive when dealing with small sound effects that need to stand out from Thomas Newman's fantastic score. I loved hearing Mr. Jingle's little paws patter across the linoleum floor of the green mile, just discernable enough to register as convincing. Though short on sonic theatrics, this track suits the largely dialogue-driven film and frequently builds up an involving ambient soundfield.
The Green Mile Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Owners of previous DVD releases will find nothing new here, but the special features are definitely worthwhile for those that haven't seen them before. The disc is housed in a digibook that includes trivia, actor bios, and a short essay.
Commentary by Director Frank Darabont
Darabont hops right into this track, launching into a discussion about on-location shots and studio set-design, and the pace rarely relents over three hours as the director offers up more technical and production-related information than you could shake a prison guard's baton at. Oddly enough, Darabont gives us not only a backstage view of the film, but also of his commentary itself, as mid-way through he introduces Emily, the associate producer for the commentary, who admits "I make sure he says everything that he needs to say." Darabont says, "She keeps me in line, and she keeps me talking."
Walking the Mile: The Making of The Green Mile (SD, 25:30)
A standard-issue but entertaining "making of" featurette, Walking the Mile features interviews with all the key players and lots of behind-the-scenes footage. The material here is eclipsed, though, by the exhaustive documentary that follows.
Miracles and Mystery: Creating The Green Mile (SD, 1:42:54)
A full meal in and of itself—I wouldn't recommend watching it right after the three hour film—this six-part documentary explores every aspect of the The Green Mile's journey from serialized novel to the screen. Stephen King: Storyteller is an overview of the author's style, The Art of Adaptation features Frank Darabont talking about the process of writing the screenplay, and Acting on the Mile includes interviews with the film's actors, who all seem to agree that making The Green Mile was a terrific and rare experience. Designing the Mile delves into production design, cinematography, and costuming, The Magic of the Mile examines the film's often subtle visual effects, and The Tail of Mr. Jingles praises animal trainer Boone Narr's work wrangling the 15 or so mice that were each trained to do different "stunts."
Deleted Scenes (SD, 3:38 total)
Includes two scenes, Bitterbuck's Family Says Goodbye, and Coffey's Prayer. Frank Darabont offers optional commentary for both scenes.
Michael Clarke Duncan's Screen Test (SD, 8:26)
If I had watched these fantastic screen tests, I would've hired Duncan too.
Tom Hanks' Makeup Tests (SD, 5:30)
For most of the production, Frank Darabont always intended for Tom Hanks to play the old version of Paul Edgecomb as well. After seeing the unsettling and less-than-believable old age makeup by practical effects gurus Rick Baker and Greg Nicotero, you'll understand why Darabont decided to cast Dabbs Greer instead.
Includes the "lost" teaser trailer (1:58), which was abandoned when Darabont realized the mouse looked like a giant rat, a brief documentary about the scuttled teaser trailer (4:47), and the theatrical trailer (2:23).
The Green Mile Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
While The Green Mile may not be a great film—like its predecessor—it is a good film, one that makes a case for compassion and decency when the world around has dried up and turned sour. The film is presented pleasingly on Blu-ray, and with a great digibook case, it makes an excellent companion piece to The Shawshank Redemption in more ways than one. Recommended.
The Green Mile: Other Editions
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