Shawshank Redemption
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Shawshank Redemption

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Steven King is undeniably of the greatest masters of horror this country has ever produced. A prolific writer he has found a niche on the literary best seller’s lists, many of which have been turned into movies and television mini-series. The thing is King’s literary talents extend beyond the horror genre to other forms of storytelling. In this regard his other projects delve into human behavior with some emphasis of the dark end of the human emotional spectrum. One of the most notable examples to demonstrate this is his novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption,’ which was included as one of four stories included in the collection ‘Different Seasons’, published in 1982. Just over a decade afterwards the story was made into a film with the title simplified to just ‘The Shawshank Redemption’. Reinforcing the premise that Steven King is more than a horror writer this film went on to six Academy Award nominations and inclusion in the American Film Institution’s, second top 100 list (#72). Although the movie barely squeaked by returned its modest budget of about $25 million it was recognized by the critical community as a movie with extraordinary qualities. It was scripted and directed by Frank Darabont, a man who would go on to become the preferred filmmaker for subsequent migrations of King’s works to the cinema. Expanding his own roots in horror Darabont most recently was behind the creation of the cable television series, ‘’The Walking Dead’’, hailed by many as one of the best series of the season. It may have been awhile since this film was released on DVD but it is a classic and a consideration of its merits is something that doesn’t expire. Supplanting King’s usual use of the supernatural, evil forces as the underlying motivation are the more mundane but equally destructive effects of emotions encompassing greed, lust, hatred and anger. ‘Shawshank’ has become a part of our collective cultural consciousness and a solid piece of cinematic history.

Most stories that revolve around crime focus mainly on the commission of the illegal activity, the police investigation and the finality of the courtroom judgment. This story breezes past that pulling the audience behind bars with our protagonist, Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins). Andy is a tall, slim man, unassuming and quite of disposition. A banker by profession Andy was more inclined to be honored by the Rotary club than wind up in Shawshank State Penitentiary. Andy was found guilty of murdering his unfaithful wife and her lover and although the evidence against him was circumstantial a jury of his peers found it sufficient to convict him and sentence him to a pair of consecutive life sentences. Once inside Andy befriends another inmate, Ellis "Red" Redding (Morgan Freeman), the prison’s go to man to the trafficking of contraband. The one item that Andy request from his new associate is a small rock hammer typically used by hobbyists explaining that he wants to help pass the time endlessly stretching before him by craving small rocks into chess pieces. Soon after Red fulfills another request, a large poster of the actress Rita Hay Hayworth which is hung prominently on Andy’s cell wall.

Andy’s existence inside was far from uneventful. A group of lifers with a perchance for homosexual gang rape known as ‘The Sister’s’ had set their sights on Andy. Lead by one of the most feared inmates, Bogs (Mark Rolston) Andy had a full time task to keep safe and alive. Fate seems to intervene when Andy happens to overhear the chief guard Byron Hadley (Clancy Brown) complaining about his taxes. This is just the in Andy needs. He leverages his financial acumen to get Hadley a dream return gaining his help and the rest of the guards as clients. Eventually Andy is approached by the Warden Samuel Norton (Bob Gunton), to help cover his money laundering scam. This gets Andy a prized work assignment in the prison library. Throughout the film we are given a different view of prisoners that typically seen in a movie. There is unprovoked violence, men so institutionalized that they are unable to cope with freedom a blatant institutional corruption. The story examines a depth of drama and an intensity of emotion through a deceptively quite form of storytelling.

Morgan Freeman not only contributes his considerable acting abilities to the movie but lends the soothing timbre of his instantly recognizable voice as the narrator. The technique of an in play narrator helps immeasurably to retaining the tone and underlying impact of the original written piece. King’s style frequently employs internal narration to expedite the exposition and move the story along. One reason Darabont is so successful directing film versions of King’s works his he seems to possess an intrinsic understanding of the author’s process permitting him to translate it to the screen. Besides Freeman the casting of this movie is as close to ideal in order to reflect the feel of the novella. Robbins has built his career playing a widely diversified list of characters. He has the quiet intensity that embodies the person King originally crafted for the written story. With his abilities brought to this character the transition from the drama of a wrongly imprisoned man to one that concludes as a testimony to the heights the human spirit can achieve. Andy transforms methodically from a man desperate to survive to one that can see the long game. The chess pieces he so carefully crafted became an allegory for aches game being played out and a much grander, largely unseen board. Andy proves to be the epitome of the soft spoken hero, think ahead by more moves than his opponent could imagine. This is a movie that not only entertains but one that can inspire. If this is not already in your collection it is a situation that you should rectify as soon as possible.

Audio Commentary By Writer/Director Frank Darabont
2 Documentaries: (the Making-of) Hope Springs Eternal: A Look Back at The Shawshank Redemption and Shawshank: The Redeeming Feature, which examines the movie's enormous impact and following.
The Charlie Rose Show segment featuring Darabont, Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman.
Sharktank Redemption Spoof
Photo Gallery
Storyboards
Theatrical Trailer

Posted 11/10/12

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