The Green Mile (1999)
Rated R

Starring: Tom Hanks, David Morse, and Michael Clarke Duncan

out of

Stephen King's novels have a roller-coaster like history in terms of movie adaptations. For every Misery, there is an Apt Pupil and a Maximum Overdrive. That's not to say that every Stephen King story is a masterpiece but it is a reminder that just because his name is associated with something doesn't necessarily mean it will be good stuff. Thankfully, The Green Mile is based on a good story. The resulting movie is just short of brilliant.

The Green Mile tells the story of Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) and his co-workers at a Louisiana prison in 1935. They work on death row, which is sometimes called "the last mile" in other prisons. In their prison, however, death row is called "the green mile" because of the green floor.

Paul is having a particularly rough summer. He's come down with a painful urinary infection and he also has to deal with new employee Percy (Doug Hutchinson), the nephew of the governor, who basically does what he wants -- no matter how cruel -- without fear of reprimand. Adding to his problems is a new inmate, John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan), a gigantic black man who has been convicted of raping and murdering two little girls.

From their first meeting, Paul seems to have his doubts about the incongruity of Coffey's demeanor and the deed that brought him to death row. Coffey is quiet, polite and asks if they leave the lights on when it's bedtime. Coffey is afraid of the dark. And, as Paul and the other guards will soon find out, he possesses a gift that seems to have spiritual origins.

Director Frank Darabont also wrote the screenplay, which is based on Stephen King's multi-part novella, "The Green Mile." Darabont allows the characters ample room to grow and breathe. The film clocks in at just over three hours but it never seems to drag or become tiresome. The dialogue and the performances keep things moving at an excellent pace. Even with the subject matter, rooted in an odd combination of spirituality, humor, and horror, is handled with particular aplomb.

Hanks and Duncan are the foundation of the film. Without question, their performances are superb. However, there are many equally good actors who shine in The Green Mile. David Morse is notable as Brutus "Brutal" Howell, Paul's second-in-command. Michael Jeter and Sam Rockwell are exceptional as Coffey's fellow inmates. James Cromwell is his usual stoic self as Warden Hal Moores. The only odd misstep is Graham Greene as Arlen Bitterbuck. I may be wrong, but I don't believe he utters a single word of dialogue in the film. Harry Dean Stanton's cameo as Toot is funny and a little disturbing (if only for its context: a practice run in the electric chair.)

The Green Mile is a solid film with a great cast, many memorable moments and a few things to say about the state of humanity. It's definitely one of the best Stephen King movie adaptations so far. It does not reach the level of The Shawshank Redemption, also directed by Frank Darabont, but it does come quite close. An excellent and highly recommended film.

Trivia: In one cemetery scene, all the names on the headstones are anagrams of the word "story." This is director Frank Darabont's way of saying that in Hollywood, the story is dead. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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