THE GREEN MILE
The year is 1935. John Coffey is brought to the Louisiana State
Penitentiary's death row, nicknamed "the green mile,"
and into the care of Paul Edgecomb (Hanks) and his staff, because
he has been convicted of the brutal rape and murder of two pre-pubescent
girls. Though his defense attorney (Hanks's Apollo 13 pal
Gary Sinise) believes Coffey is sorry for what he did, there is
little doubt in his mind that his client is guilty. After all,
he was found holding the two girls in his arms, covered in their
blood. Condemned to die by electrocution, he joins the other sorry
inhabitants of the mile, including a native American descendant
named Arlen Bitterbuck (Graham Greene) and a Cajun man named Eduard
Delacroix (Jeter). Although Paul's men are wary of the huge inmate
at first, they soon discover that he is incapable of harming them.
Paul's colleagues (David Morse, Jeffrey DeMunn, and Saving Private Ryan co-star
Barry Pepper) are generally easygoing fellows disposed toward
humane and respectful treatment of the inmates, but the new boy,
Percy Wetmore (Doug Hutchison) is the type who enjoys toying with
the imprisoned men's dignity. Not only sadistic and mean-spirited,
Percy is the nephew of the governor, and therefore cannot be fired.
But when an especially dangerous new inmate (Sam Rockwell) arrives,
Percy disgraces himself in a variety of ways, not the least of
which is failing to stop the criminal in a nearly deadly attack
on another guard. So in order to keep Paul and the others from
reporting him, Percy cuts a deal. If he is allowed to preside
at the next execution, he will transfer to another job that he
has been offered. And his part in the resulting fiasco is what
causes John Coffey to do what he does.
The Green Mile is as real a supernatural drama as they
come. The atmosphere of the 1935 Louisiana prison sullenly echos
that of Darabont's Shawshank. The script is heavy with
meaning; the symbolism of John Coffey as Jesus Christ is unmistakeable.
Hanks and the other guards' acting is impeccable as would be expected,
but Duncan and his fellow prisoners are also disturbingly real.
Also haunting is Hutchison's portrayal of Percy; his sadism is
manifested not so much in gleeful torture as a morbid fascination
with the suffering of others. Not merely a traditional black-hatted
villain, Hutchison's Percy is truly a sad and conflicted individual.
Cromwell, Hunt, and Patricia Clarkson offer moving support in
their roles outside the prison setting.
Unfortunately, The Green Mile is not without its flaws. As in Titanic and Private Ryan, it is bookended by an unnecessary modern-day section, where Hanks's character (played by Dabbs Greer) relates his story to an elderly friend and reveals the secrets we didn't need to know. Not only does this prologue and epilogue take away from the impact of the story, it adds numerous extra minutes to the 3-hour running time. If the film had simply been set in 1935, it would have been cleaner and less manipulative, and probably only 2½ hours long. It can be argued that the Hanks section needed to be as long as it is to properly tell the story, but the final fifteen minutes is an unfortunate anticlimax to an otherwise stirring drama. ****½
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