The Shawshank Redemption (1994) — Spending the time of your life

“Let me tell you something my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.”

Justin’s rating: Long live Oz!

Justin’s review: You may not think about this too much, but really good films that appeal to the masses and maintain rewatchability value over time take a hell of a lot of work on the filmmaker’s parts. If they do their job right, you won’t even notice what they do — you’ll just enjoy a well-crafted movie like The Shawshank Redemption, Jaws, or The Sixth Sense. Almost everything in Shawshank is done to near perfection: the acting, the sets, the story, the cinematography, the music.

Based on a short novel by Stephen King (which I read before I ever saw this film), The Shawshank Redemption tells the long tale of one Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), a shrewd banker who gets framed and sent to one of the toughest prisons for life. In there he makes friends with “The Guy Who Can Get You Anything,” Red (Morgan Freeman). Freeman narrates this movie from an old timer’s perspective, and darn it if it doesn’t just draw you in.

Andy is a very complex man who both the characters and the film itself observes with perplexity. Who is this quiet man? Did he really kill his cheating wife? What’s up with his various little quirks? Even at the end of the movie there’s still a lot to Andy that we never figure out, and that’s most of the charm. The friendship of Andy and Red is one of contrasting natures with a similar purpose, which blossoms into a story where hope overcomes a world that just tries to beat it out of you.

One of my favorite aspects of Shawshank is that it just sits back and tells a tale, you know, in a long, leisurely fashion. Nothing moves fast in prison, and although events keep occurring, you do get a sense of the long period of time Andy and Red spend behind bars. Many of the typical prison motifs are present, including the evil warden, the vicious prison guard, escape attempts, and sexual assault. Shawshank has somewhat of a surprise ending, although the story is constantly working up to revealing this through clues and plot points.

Even once you’ve seen the movie (or read the book) and know what happens, the film is still satisfying to watch again and again. It also appeals to a wide audience, so it’s the perfect kind of movie to watch with your family, your date, or even by yourself.

About my only complaint with Shawshank Redemption is that the author is rarely ever acknowledged. Stephen King is excellent when it comes to creating believable and fascinating characters, and giving them a wonderful story to live through. Other great examples of King’s non-horror movie adaptions include the coming-of-age Stand By Me and prison companion flick The Green Mile. Give the guy some credit for being more than a one-note horror icon, will ya?

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