Top critical review
Never rises above the hollywood platitudes
on July 21, 2002
Gees, I'm going to get caned for saying this, aren't I.
The Shawshank Redemption has always been pegged as a great movie - clearly the Amazon.com readership thinks so - and I finally got round to seeing it last night.
It's definitely a engaging film; beautifully shot, well enough acted and it resolves itself quite nicely (if not a little obviously - the "twist" was so predictable it may as well have been Chubby Checker). But to my mind, the Shawshank Redemption never rises above simply "satisfactory".
With Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman at the helm, it was always going to be a worthy sort of picture. Alas, it scores worthiness points in that numb-skulled Hollywood way, by painting the moral world in black and white. The characters are either completely virtuous, or they're thoroughly nasty. That makes the moral lesson easy to preach, but also completely undermines it, because we know the real world just isn't like that. Well, mine isn't, anyway.
To wit: the prison gang into which wrongly convicted (of course - but how much better would the picture have been had he actually done it?) Andy Du Fresne falls - lifers, all - comprises only genuinely nice, decent, hard working, obedient folk.
Freeman's character, Red, is an avuncular figure not a million miles from B. B. King, but who is continually, inexplicably, rejected for parole by the nasty white folk. He accepts his lot without complaint (but when he finally does speak his mind, he gets released!) Old timer Brooks (equally avuncular, but this time not a million miles from namesake Mel) is eventually paroled, but he doesn't want to leave his home of 50 years, and when pushed out in to the cruel modern world ... well, I don't want to give anything away. But it isn't hard to guess.
The remainder of the moral lessons are the standard Hollywood fare; it's a film that attempts the epic sweep of The Dead Poets' Society, without the lyricism (but, to its credit, also without Robin Williams) and attempts to portray the brutal life of prison, without the brutality of say Sleepers.
The hook line "you get busy livin', or you get busy dyin'!" is pure schmaltz, and I'm surprised Robbins didn't refuse point blank to deliver it. And if that wasn't bad enough, then Freeman reprises the line (only tacking on "that's goddamn right!") as the credits roll. Ugh.
And just for those who hadn't picked it up from watching the film (or reading its title), the director helpfully gushes "it's all about redemption!" in a fairly unenlightening accompanying documentary.
The resolution of the film may be predictable, but the manner of its arrival is nicely engineered: well plotted, Stephen King.
And as for ending up in Zihuatanejo - great call; it's a truly beautiful place - I once went there. It's just a pity the film crew didn't. Zihuatanejo is snuggled amongst some hills in a pretty little inlet, about a hundred miles west of Acapulco. Lord only knows, then, why they filmed the final shot on an outwardly curving ocean beach, which could be anywhere on the planet BUT Zihuatanejo...