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The movie's better than the title, I guess . . .
on January 7, 2003
. . . but that's not saying a heck of a lot, as *The Shawshank Redemption* vies for the honor of being The Worst Title In Movie History. (And it's an IMPROVEMENT over the title of its source, a Stephen King novella called *Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption*!)...But I'm here to talk about Darabont's movie, not a work of art. So whadda we got, here? It's episodic in the extreme: the narrative doesn't "flow" so much as it drops, like cinder blocks, in separate but not exactly-related pieces. Tim Robbins drinks and smokes in his car that's parked outside the cabin where his wife and her lover, a tennis pro, are otherwise engaged. CLUNK. Robbins is blamed for her murder, and is sentenced to life. CLUNK. First day in Shawshank State Prison. CLUNK. Treated like a "sissy" by an inmate gang called the *Sisters*. CLUNK. Morgan Freeman's Red, the inmate who runs a small contraband ring, is denied parole. CLUNK. Robbins asks Red for a large poster of Rita Hayworth (the movie begins in the Forties). CLUNK. Robbins gets recognized as a sort of financial genius (he was a banker on the outside), and is recruited by the Warden and the guards to do their taxes for them. CLUNK. Robbins builds a prison library. Five years go by, seven years, twelve years, all with updated pin-up posters and side-stories of various other inmates. CLUNK, CLUNK, CLUNK. You know this will all (or almost all) tie in together at the end, but in the meantime you have to endure the lack of narrative flow, the moody piano music, Tim Robbins' colorless and nearly inaudible performance (he practically whispers every line), a crew-cutted prison warden who is predictably ... Needless to say, much of the movie could've been trimmed, if only to disguise the lethargic pacing... In terms of tone, it starts with many scenes of explicit brutality and rape that seem more concerned about impressing us with "realism" than about serving any immediate narrative function. Growing increasingly sappy as it moves turgidly along, the movie finally ends with a moment that, while moving, is equally manipulative. Rather sums up the movie as a whole. The 2nd Star of my review belongs solely to Morgan Freeman: once again, he brings dignity and complexity to a movie that's direly lacking in either.