The Green Mile

The Green Mile


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Hollywood has served the lobby against capital punishment well over the years and yet in state after state prisoners are still being put to death. So much for the power of cinema.

The Green Mile takes its place with pride among those films that attempt to educate the public in the business of authorised killing. The film is as sweet as honey. The good people and the bad people are easy to spot. They don't change.

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The period is the Depression, which means that cars are real antiques and prison guards have respect for their work.

Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) is in charge of death row at Cold Mountain jail. He is a good man. His assistant, "Brutal" Howell (David Morse), is a good man, also, despite his nickname, as are the other two guards. Only the greenhorn, Percy Wetmore (Doug Hutchinson), nephew of the Governor, is not. He is weak and afraid and takes it out on the condemned men.

The story centres around John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan), a giant "negro", with a gift of healing, who murdered two little girls in the woods, they say. Like an idiot savant, he has special powers. Like Jesus Christ, he is a miracle worker. Of all the good people in this good place, he is the most blessed, which is an irony, of course, and a tragedy.

The others waiting for execution are decent and thoughtful, except Wild Bill (Sam Rockwell) who is a sociopath. One of them trains a mouse and calls it Mr Jangles.

Everyone loves Mr Jangles. When these men are electrocuted, it makes you hate a law that does not believe in repentance. Paul thinks about John Coffey and knows that soon his turn will come. He begins to question his job.

The film is as soft as butter. Sentimentality clogs the air ducts until it is difficult to breathe. Tom Hanks is a good man. He is incapable of giving an unsympathetic performance. Everyone, even Mr Jangles, loves Tom Hanks. Writer/director Frank Darabont has a thing about prisons. His last movie was The Shawshank Redemption (seven Academy Award nominations). At three hours, The Green Mile feels like life. You can have too much of a good thing.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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A prison guard's relationship with a death row prisoner. Now out to own on Special Edition two-disc DVD.
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Read more The Green Mile reviews:

Paz Newis ****
Symon Parsons ***1/2

Director: Frank Darabont

Writer: Frank Darabont

Starring: Tom Hanks, David Morse, Bonnie Hunt, Michael Clarke Duncan, James Cromwell, Michael Jeter, Graham Greene, Doug Hutchison, Sam Rockwell, Barry Pepper, Jeffrey DeMunn

Year: 1999

Runtime: 188 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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