THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION
Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman
Director: Frank Darabont
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Widescreen 1.85:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: Theatrical Trailer, Stills Gallery
Length: 142 Minutes
Release Date: December 21, 1999
The Shawshank Redemption was
one of the best films of the 90s, and thankfully, seems to have garnered more
attention and appreciation as time has gone by. It
had the misfortune of quietly coming to theatres in 1994, where it was largely
overshadowed by two other popular and critical favorites, Forrest Gump and Pulp Fiction. Despite
being honored with seven Oscar nominations that year, it came up empty. But thats of little matter.
What does matter is that novelist Stephen King and
screenwriter/director Frank Darabont created a thoughtful, strangely beautiful, and
strikingly honest character study of two men serving life sentences in the fictional
prison of Shawshank in Maine. The wonderful
script and impeccable direction are brought to visual life by two masterful performances
in Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman.
One of the unique approaches of the film is to open the
audiences minds almost immediately. When
the film begins, we witness glimpses of Andys (Robbins) trial for murdering his wife
and her lover. We hear the evidence in court. We see a few flashbacks to the night of the crime. Andy maintains his innocence, but the viewers
simply dont know whether or not he really did itand that fact is not made
abundantly clear until closer to the end of the picture.
So when Andy is sentenced to life, we have no way of knowing if its justified
or not. We arent immediately drawn into
rooting for the falsely accused underdog, nor are we ready to dismiss Andys
confinement as being justice for a killer. We
have no choice but to watch Andy closely, and what happens to him, and for a marked period
of time, witness what happens to him without judgment.
In Shawshank, Andy becomes friends with another lifer,
Red (Freeman). Unlike Andy, Red makes it
clear that he is in fact guilty of murder, although the details of his crime are left
sketchy at best
another good choice for Darabont.
Andy may be the principal character here, but his story is told through Reds
eyes, and thanks to the script and Freemans winning work, it doesnt take long
to warm up to Reds character.
As these two men share a 19 year incarceration, the film explores
prison life fully. We see the horrors of
cruel guards, uncaring wardens, and the abuse that can occur at the hands of other
inmates. But with Andys mind and
spirit, we also see the less bleak moments, such as when Andy manages to create a
functional library for the prison, or how he helps young wayward fellows to try for and
pass their high school equivalence exam.
The passage of time is an important theme, and the way Darabont
presents it is fascinating. Nothing much
changes inside the walls of the prison. We
observe the slight aging effects on both Andy and Red, how they get a little slower and a
little more weary as the years pass. However,
two times we get glimpses of the outside world through the eyes of former inmates. One in particular, and old man named Brooks,
remarks in a letter to his friends how fast the world had gotten since his incarceration. And one cant help but think of the word
rehabilitate, and how much it comes up in the movie. On the surface, the word can simply mean that the
prisoner has mended his ways, and learned his lesson, so to speak. But on another level, it means a readiness to
rejoin society. Its the part of the
equation thats sadly lacking, as those who have spent decades behind bars have no
clue as to what awaits them on the outside
and little or no chance of ever fitting in
Red remarks about the prison walls at one point: First you hate them, then you get used to
them. Then, after a while, you get to where
you depend on them. He suggests, and
the movie corroborates, that after enough time has passed behind bars, theres
nothing much left for a man on the outside world.
The movie, despite a bleak subject matter and often harsh
realizations, manages to maintain a true sense of the human spirits ability to
triumph. Andy remarks to Red, You have
two choices. Get busy living, or get busy
dying. Their world has little promise,
but Andys ability to shine like a lamp in the darkness
no matter how
has a positive effect on those around him.
And even a hardened timer like Red finds that there can be more to prison life than
simply rotting away and waiting to die.
It is this spirit that has continued to win The Shawshank Redemption new fans, as well as repeat viewings from those who loved it the first time around. Its simply a well-made, written, and acted character drama that proves that the heart, the mind, and the soul can never be locked away.
This is quite an impressive job from Warner. The print is especially clean, and given the wide array of lighting schemes, from daylit outdoor scenes to indoor prison sequences with virtually no light, the anamorphic transfer is nearly perfect throughout. One or two of the very, very darkest scenes exhibit a faint amount grain so faint that Id wager it only detectable to the most scrutinizing eyes. Colors are well defined and natural throughout, with no bleedingremarkable given the many low light settings where only a few accents are present.
The 5.1 soundtrack is also remarkable, and exhibits great dynamic
range. Much of the movies sound is low
key, but with crisp and clear dialogue. Then,
some of the busier prison scenes, when gates and doors are sliding and banging from all
corners, are vibrant and loud, and make for excellent contrast to the quieter moments.
Fans are bound to be disappointed with Warners weak effort in
this department, particularly after word had been out that the reason for the year long
delay in this title was in order to include a commentary track. Instead, all you get is a trailer and some stills.
Features or no, The Shawshank Redemption is a powerful, thoughtful film that excels in all areas, and Warner has at least seen fit to offer a most commendable transfer. This movie has touched the hearts of everyone I know who has seen it, and most likely, it will be one youll want to enjoy time and time again.