When Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption was released in 1994, the reception was decidedly underwhelming. Whilst critics were full of praise, theatre goers were less enthused and the film only reached number 9 in the Box Office during its opening weekend. Yet, as history has proven numerous times, commercial success doesn’t always lead to a classic. Following its seven Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay, Shawshank’s rental sales more than doubled its overall Box Office revenue.
Maine, 1946. Banker Andy Dufrense (Tim Robbins) is convicted for the murder of his wife and her lover and sentenced to life in Shawshank State Prison. Befriending fellow convict Ellis ‘Red’ Redding (Morgan Freeman), Andy encounters a world of deceit governed by corrupt Warden Norton (Bob Gunton) and learns his unparalleled intelligence may be his saviour.
Adapted from Stephen King’s novella Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption, in turn inspired by Leo Tolstoy’s short story about a man banished to Siberia for a murder he didn’t commit, The Shawshank Redemption is a powerfully moving tale no film of its kind can match.
Five years after the success of Shawshank, Darabont directed a decidedly darker prison drama The Green Mile, about an innocent man on death row. Based on another short story by Stephen King, it is hard not to assume that Darabont was attempting to recapture the brilliance of his former King-inspired work. The film has, unsurprisingly, drawn comparisons with other prison dramas such as the tediously mediocre Escape from Alcatraz, but Darabont has stated that Shawshank’s voice-over narration and editing techniques were inspired by Martin Scorsese’s stunning gangster-epic Goodfellas.
Merging sadism and brutality with an uplifting message of hope and friendship is no easy task, but Frank Darabont’s deservedly Oscar nominated script and sensitive direction manage to achieve this. Joining them in this success is the phenomenal performances by Morgan Freeman (who should have been awarded the Oscar) and Tim Robbins together with fantastic support from the likes of James Whitmore, Bob Gunton, Clancy Brown, Gil Bellows and William Sadler.
Supporters of the Bechdel Test may gawk at the fact that Andy’s adulterous wife is the only female character and her dialogue-free role consists of her having sex against a door. Yet the brilliance of the film is so extraordinary even the most dedicated feminists cannot fail to be moved.
The sheer mastery on display in The Shawshank Redemption is a cinematic perfection that is rarely seen and makes it truly worthy of its status as a modern classic.