Director: Frank Darabont
Cast: Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, James Whitmore, Bob Gunton, William Sadler
Released: October 14, 1994
Best Picture (lost to Forrest Gump)
Best Actor - Morgan Freeman (lost to Tom Hanks for Forrest Gump)
Best Original Score - Thomas Newman (lost to Hans Zimmer for The Lion King)
Best Adapted Screenplay - Frank Darabont (lost to Eric Roth for Forrest Gump)
Best Sound (lost to Speed)
Best Editing (lost to Forrest Gump)
Best Cinematography (lost to Legends of the Fall)
Warning: Spoilers for a 20 year old beloved movie that everyone and their grandmothers have seen!
Perhaps it would be cliche to say that The Shawshank Redemption is one of my favorite movies, but The Shawshank Redemption is one of my favorite movies. Definitely in my top five. Even though some pretty horrible stuff happens in this film, there's something very comforting about watching it. I don't know how many times I've seen it (just saw it for the first time on my new Blu Ray!), but I do know that with each viewing, I still love it as much as the last time I saw it.
Everyone knows this movie's "rags to riches" story: it was a bomb at the box office; nobody saw it. But after it was nominated for seven Oscars, people started to take notice and it became a huge video rental and I believe it was TBS (or TNT?) that aired it constantly and soon from word of mouth, became a very popular and beloved movie. It's always usually ranked #1 (as of this writing of this review, it is) on the IMDb Top 250. And this is out of all of the movies in the world that have ever existed, so being in the top ten, let alone in first (or sometimes second on a bad day - ha!) is pretty impressive. The IMDb Top 250 can be a bit of a head scratcher at times. It doesn't surprise me at all to see movies like The Godfather (and its sequel), Star Wars (and it's sequels - NOT prequels!), Lord of the Rings, (and it's sequels), Schindler's List, Pulp Fiction, and Forrest Gump (the last two are at #5 and #14, respectively and were also nominated for Oscars the same year as Shawshank...1994 should be proud of itself!) in the top 20. I may not be fans of all those movies (:::coughcoughStarWarscoughcough::::), but I can see why they're all ranked so high. Then you have a movie like Inception ranked at #13 which just boggles my mind because I hated that movie so much! There's no way that movie should be ranked so high when Back to the Future is ranked at #49! That is so messed up! Back to the Future is way better than Inception AND more of a classic (hell, Inception is no way near a classic...it is one of the most boring movies I have ever seen! Well, maybe that's not true....there are other movies that could compete for it in that category! But I just could not get invested or interested in it and kept looking at my phone to check the time...you know that's a sign when you're not into a movie!) I know it's all subjective, but I just don't understand how Inception can be so high at #13! Do people really love it that much? Anyway, I'm getting off on a tangent so let's get back to the review.
I don't think I was really aware of The Shawshank Redemption until a few years later when my mom was watching it on TV and I came into the living room for a few minutes and asked what she was watching and she told me, but since I don't like to start watching movies in the middle (especially ones I've never seen before), I just watched for a few minutes then left since I really had no idea what was going on. My first true introduction to the film was when I was a sophomore in college. My dorm would sometimes have movie night on the weekends and one night it was The Shawshank Redemption. We would usually watch movies on the TV (10 Things I Hate About You and Music of the Heart are two I remember), but they had a screen and movie projector for Shawshank which was kinda cool. The screen was nowhere near as big as what you would get in a theater (obviously!), but it was much bigger than the TV, so that was nice. That was the first time I watched the movie all the way through and just remember being enthralled the entire time. I've since seen it several times and like I mentioned above, own it on Blu-Ray. Before that, I would watch my parents' DVD of it (which I gave them for Christmas, of course!)
Interestingly enough, The Shawshank Redemption is a two-hour movie that's based on a short story by Stephen King called "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption" that's probably no more than 30 pages. It's a short story from a collection of stories called Different Seasons which also includes "The Body" (which was made into a movie better known as Stand By Me) and "Apt Pupil". I've read the short story, but it's been awhile. I would like to revisit it, but don't know if I still have the book.
A lot of names were thrown around for who should play Andy Dufrense and Red, Tom Cruise and Harrison Ford being among them, but it's hard to imagine anybody other than Tim Robbins as the young banker who was wrongly accused of murdering his wife and her lover and sentenced to two life sentences at Shawshank or Morgan Freeman as the inmate who can get anybody whatever they need. And in the book, we learn Red gets his name because he is an Irish man with red hair! I love how they address it in the movie when Andy asks Red why he's called that and Red just says matter-of-factly, "Maybe because I'm Irish." And it works.
Having seen this movie numerous times, it's easy to forget that there's a twist ending. I already know that the reason Andy asked Red for a poster of Rita Hayworth (which later becomes a poster of Marilyn Monroe, then Racquel Welch) and a rock hammer is because they are both instrumental for him to escape. But he never tells anyone about his plan (although he sort of does to Red, although he's very cryptic about it when he tells Red if he ever gets out, then he wants him to go to a specific place and find a box that he has yet to place there) and anyone watching the film for the first time finds out about Andy's escape at the same time as the warden (Bob Gunton), Red, and all the other inmates. The reveal of it is a great scene no matter if you're seeing it for the first time or not.
Andy was in prison for 20 years before he escaped. That's a long time. It's gotta be bad enough to go to prison even if you are guilty, but being innocent and having to be in prison for 20 years, that's just unimaginable!
The portion of the movie where Brooks (James Whitmore) is released from prison after having been there nearly all his life and has thus become institutionalized is so heartbreaking. I was listening to a podcast where they said that they didn't like the Brooks narration because it didn't make sense to have Red narrate the movie, then all of a sudden, Brooks is narrating the movie for a few minutes in the middle. This has never occurred to me and it doesn't bother me because we're hearing his voice reading a letter he wrote to his friends at Shawshank. Sure, you could have Red narrate the letter or show Andy reading the letter to the others, but I think it works fine with the voice over from Brooks and it's much more effective since we can see the effect the outside world has on him. One of my favorite lines in the movie is how it's been a long time since he's been in the "real" world and says, "The world went and got itself in one damn big hurry." The movie starts in 1947 and by the time Brooks is out, it's the late '50s, so you know he's been in Shawshank for the better half of the twentieth century. So you can only imagine how much has changed since he was last a civilian. I remember watching the Oscars where James Whitmore was in the In Memoriam montage and I hadn't realize he died. When they showed him, they showed a scene from Shawshank (I'm pretty sure it was the scene in the bus like the picture above) and I remember going, "Aww, Brooks died!" But then I wasn't really that surprised since the movie came out in' 94 and he was already pretty old then and this was 2009 or 2010.
Just like the last movie I reviewed, The Man in the Iron Mask, this movie also has a connection to The Count of Monte Cristo, another movie I have recently reviewed. It's when Andy and others are in the library going though books that other libraries have donated to him and that's one they come across and Andy makes a comment that they would like it because it's about a prison escape. Since it had been seven years since I've seen Shawshank, (I know for sure because I am a cine-nerd who documents the month and year when I watch a movie), I had totally forgotten about this scene, so it was just a pure coincidence. I'm sure if I had watched this movie first, it would have inspired me to watch Monte Cristo, because, let's face it, unlike Shawshank, everyone kind of forgets about that movie!
Why do people love this movie so much? It is that everyone loves a great prison escape story? Is it the friendship between Red and Andy? Is it the brilliance of Andy laundering money for the warden, but keeping it all for himself when he got out? (Saul Goodman may have taught me everything about money laundering, but this was probably my first introduction to it.) Is it that one single scene where Andy defies the warden and prison guards when he sneaks into the office to play an opera song, "The Marriage of Figaro" for all the inmates to have this few minutes of something different in their lives? Is it because the quote, "Get busy living or get busy dying" inspires something in everyone, including Jack Shepard from Lost, who I am sure his own quote of "Live together, die alone" was inspired by that quote? (Come on, I'm sure it was!) I'm guessing it's all of the above.
The twentieth (!!!) anniversary will be arriving next fall and while I doubt a 3-D version of this movie will ever be released (but then again, you never know), I would love for it to be re-released in theaters as I would love to see this movie on the big screen (a REAL big screen!)