The Green Mile
CAST: Tom Hanks, Michael
Clarke Duncan, David Morse, Sam Rockwell, James Cromwell,
DIRECTOR: Frank Darabont
When we first meet Paul Edgecomb, he is an
ostensibly cheerful geriatric at a managed-care facility
and played by veteran character actor Dabbs Greer. Paul's
cheer lessens when he has periodic nightmares, and his
eyes reflect a surplus of bittersweet memories. The movie
flashes back to 1935, when Paul was head guard on
Louisiana's death row, where the walkway to the electric
chair is called the green mile. He is now played by Mr.
Hanks, one of the few actors who can register
uncompromised decency without the taint of pomposity.
Paul is indeed a decent being. He has sympathy for the
victims' survivors and understands their desire for
retribution. He also has compassion for the convicted
inmates, who he feels will pay their debt to society by
being executed, and he seeks to make their last few
desperate weeks as calm as possible.
A prisoner arrives who will forever change the lives of
those around him. John Coffey (played by Michael Clarke
Duncan) stands 7 feet tall and is the film's Forrest
Gump. A gentle giant, he speaks in sweet, dulcet tones,
but his limited vocabulary sometimes creates problems.
Even under duress, he keeps thinking the good thoughts.
Yet he's convicted of raping and murdering two young
girls. Eventually, Paul learns that John possesses
magical healing powers. He feels that a person guilty of
such heinous crimes would not be blessed with such
positive forces and hopes that John can be proved
Balancing the goodness of John and Paul are two
extraordinarily wicked creatures serial killer
"Wild Bill'' Wharton (Sam Rockwell) and sadistic
guard Percy Wetmore (Doug Hutchison), who loves
tormenting prisoners while reminding his kinder
co-workers that he's untouchable, being related to the
governor. There's even a death-row mascot, a lovable
mouse named Mr. Jingles, who's as cuddly as a kitten.
(Between The Green Mile and Stuart Little,
pet-store owners may have to restock their rodent supply.
Not even Mickey was as cute a mouse as Mr. Jingles.)
Eventually, all the humans, plus the lone rodent, are
linked together in an admirable example of that
sometimes-neglected cinematic virtue, linear
Cynics may snicker
that only Hollywood could release a feel-good death-row
movie. The truth is that only a first-rate filmmaker
could create a feel-good death-row movie that happens to
be one terrific flick.
The Green Mile also deals with such matters as
miscarriages of justice, botched executions and bladder
infections. But director/screenwriter Frank Darabont and
a superb cast headed by Tom Hanks blend the elements into
a rich and compelling brew, one that's emotionally
rewarding without pandering to its audience.
The movie is Mr. Darabont's first feature since 1994's The
Shawshank Redemption, which was also based on a
prison tale by Stephen King. The prolific Mr. King wrote The
Green Mile as a six-part serialized novel in 1996.
Mr. Darabont compressed the episodic story line into a
coherent whole. But coherence necessitates length, and
the movie clocks in at three hours. In this case, it's
gratifying to watch a filmmaker meticulously set up
characterizations and situations, and the three hours
pass like two, albeit no less than two.
Occasionally, Mr. Darabont goes for overkill. An
electrical storm during a horrifying execution is
unnecessary. And with the exception of loathsome Percy,
the relationship between guards and inmates exudes such
warmth, you almost expect them to form a friendship
circle and sing "Kumbaya.'' But considering the
movie's overall impact, these are minor quibbles.
The Green Mile proves without a doubt that Mr.
Hanks is a superb actor and not just a likable
personality. One of the tests of good acting is how well
the actor "listens.'' Much of Mr. Hanks' role
requires him to listen carefully and respond with the
minimal emotion demanded by his position as head guard.
He does so exquisitely.
Mr. Duncan gives a heart-rending depiction of goodness in
its most primitive form, while Mr. Hutchison and Mr.
Rockwell offer repellent portraits of the most primitive
forms of evil. Obviously an actor-friendly director, Mr.
Darabont gets similarly strong performances from David
Morse, Barry Pepper and Jeffrey DeMunn as sympathetic
guards, James Cromwell as a paternalistic warden, Michael
Jeter as an ill-fated inmate and Bonnie Hunt as Mr.
Hanks' understanding wife.
The Green Mile is blue-ribbon
moviemaking. It's not ashamed of having a heart, but
it's got the brains to match.
Philip Wuntch of Dallas