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The Shawshank Redemption

May 11, 2013

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Director: Frank Darabont
Actors: Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton

Shawshank R

Synopsis: Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is sent to jail for two life sentences after the murder of his wife and her lover. In prison, Dufresne befriends canny fellow inmate, Red (Morgan Freeman), and slowly insinuates himself with the guards and warden due to his legal and financial acumen. Despite his terrible situation, Dufresne retains a ‘hope’, that is borne out in a daring escape mission….

Review: Epically sentimental and bafflingly overrated, The Shawshank Redemption requires an incredible leniency and ‘sweet tooth’ from its audience, plus a willingness to ignore some glaringly obvious plot holes which threaten to tarnish the film’s own carefully modulated, sugar-coated veneer.

I accept that suspension of disbelief is a pre-requisite for most Hollywood fantasies, but the problem with The Shawshank Redemption‘s flooziness is that the film also asks for some investment in the harsh realities of its prison arena to buy the later Andy and Red push for freedom. Quite why, when the guards are so busy tearing Dufresne’s cell to shreds on a regular basis, they’d overlook checking behind his huge film posters is one puzzling oversight, and also the passing of time in the narrative – so key to empathising with the catharsis of Andy and Red’s late encounter with freedom – seems bogus. Andy spends the best part of 20 years in jail, and Red upwards of 40 years, yet the sheer physical and spiritual destruction this would wring is not apparent.

Admittedly, the film does have a sepia-tinted, fable-like quality that is well realised, from Morgan Freeman’s wry, honey-toned voiceover, to the sweetly-lit sequences that reach their apex in Andy’s heroically shot dash for freedom one tempestuous night. Still, it’s in this ending to the film that director Frank Darabont’s ultimate failure and tacky sensibility is truly outed. Instead of leaving implicit how Andy has constructed his prison break and what it will mean for his buddy Red, we get played out an over-extended and odiously demonstrative sequence, showing how Andy actually escaped (surely we got the picture from the earlier ice-pick/film poster sequences), and then Red earning his release, and following Andy’s path all the way to the Buxton oak tree where Andy has left a letter and bounty to him, then on to the actual Mexican beach where Andy is living out his life. There was no need for Darabont to hold the audience’s hand through all this exposition – it was evident from Andy and Red’s earlier prison exchanges – and rather than show Red reading the letter out and even going to the idyllic Mexican beach, Darabont should have finished on Red elegiacally walking to the Buxton oak tree, leaving the audience to fill in the remaining pieces. (May 2013)

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