Just as you begin to long for a fast-forward button for this masterful creation of the terrible tedium of prison life, Director Frank Darabont turns his story into a fine fairy tale.

THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION

A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.


If "The Shawshank Redemption" sentences the audience to an excessively long jail term, the very good news is that the long stay is rewarded with first rate acting. Just as you begin to long for a fast-forward button for this masterful creation of the terrible tedium of prison life, Director Frank Darabont turns his story into a fine fairy tale.

Opening ominously with Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) loading a gun as the Ink Spots croon "If I Didn't Care" on the tape deck in his car, the movie is driven for its full long length by Tim Robbins' portrait of a man sentenced for murder to two life terms in Maine's Shawshank prison. Robbins' exceptional performance is matched every step of the way by Morgan Freeman as Red, the prison's procurer of all contraband. Another lifer, Red has served twenty years with a dignity and humor that have turned him into Shawshank's elder statesman. Red and Andy share a value system that is rooted in restraint.

It is 1947 and Andy, an eager, bright vice president of a Portland bank, arrives at Shawshank to spend the rest of his life in a cell. After enduring the beatings and sexual assaults accorded newcomers, he settles into the monotony of life without hope. It is a routine of brutal explosions alternating with spirit-crushing boredom, and we are made to feel every second of it.

The enigmatic face Andy turns to his fellow prisoners gives no clue to an inner plan. He gradually uses his banking talents to become the estate planner for the entire prison staff, including the sadistic Warden, who is a Bible-quoting, tub-thumping, Christian hypocrite. Andy quietly becomes indispensable and acquires the essential ingredient of success: access. Number 37927 does have a plan after all.

Watch for the sublime moment when Andy locks himself in the communications room and pipes the duet from "The Marriage of Figaro" into the prison yard. Mozart stills the place with awe. With the exception of Bob Gunton, whose maniacal Warden crosses into caricature, the cast is uniformly excellent and benefits, as any cast does, from the presence of Morgan Freeman. If there is a flaw in his role as written, it is that his grace and dignity don't prepare us for the fanciful turn the movie takes toward the end, when it becomes a fairy tale, whose subtle clues were there all along.

This welcome flight into the imagination adds lightness to earlier improbabilities. Andy and Red had sprung into this world and out of it, it seems, without family or friends to root for them on the outside. And then, there's the matter of Andy's tastes. How many young bankers do you know who love opera, chess, the Bible, and alabaster? These reservations, on reflection, reveal one reviewer who was late in understanding the feathery notes that lift the movie out of despair and touch it with hope.


Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Word Count: 488
Studio: Columbia/Castle Rock
Rating: R 1h42m


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