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SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, THE (director/writer: Frank Drabout; screenwriter: from Stephen King’s short novel Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption; cinematographer: Roger Deakins; editor: Richard Francis-Bruce; music: Tom Newman; cast: Morgan Freeman (Red Redding), Tim Robbins (Andy Dufresne), Gil Bellows (Tommy), Clancy Brown (Captain Hadley), Bob Gunton (Warden Norton), Mark Rolston (Bogs Diamond), William Sadler (Heywood), James Whitmore (Brooks Hatlen); Runtime: 142; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Niki Marvin; Warner Home Video; 1994)
Spiritually moving old-fashioned prison pic.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Frank Drabout (“The Green Mile”/”The Majestic”) in his directorial debut finely directs this spiritually moving old-fashioned prison pic, that features a compelling twenty-one-year friendship between a black and white prisoner and their efforts to survive with their humanity intact in such an inhuman penal system. It’s based on Stephen King’s novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.

Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is a mild-mannered straight-arrow Maine banker, who in 1946 is wrongly given two concurrent life sentences for the double-murder of his wife and her lover. The geeky laconic banker is despised at first by the other inmates at Shawshank State Prison for being so different, but when he proves he’s not a rat after a number of beatings and seems to have some spine–the men begin to alter their initial opinions. Slowly Andy forges a friendship with fellow lifer Red (Morgan Freeman), the convict fixer, who smuggles into the prison a rock-hammer Andy requests for his rock collecting hobby.

In 1949 while tarring the roof of a prison building, Andy overhears the brutal head guard, Captain Hadley (Clancy Brown), complain about inheriting $35,000 and is afraid the tax man will take a big chunk of it. Andy shows him a legal way of getting the inheritance to be tax free and only asks for beer for the men on the work detail. This earns Andy the friendship of the veteran cons and the protection by the head guard from the ruffian cons trying to gang rape Andy. Andy’s bookkeeping ability is then exploited by the fascist Warden Norton (Bob Gunton), who gets kickbacks from private concerns to employ or not to employ his slave-labor prisoners and has opened up a secret account to stash away the bribe money.

Some twenty years in confinement has been a heart-wrenching experience for the tenacious life loving Andy, who somehow remains sane. But when he learns from a new young prisoner (Gil Bellows) who did the actual double-killing and the warden not only refuses to help but punishes him with solitary confinement–Andy puts his The Count of Monte Cristo plan into motion he had in mind ever since Red got him that small pick-axe.

The freedom loving innocent man gets his revenge on the fascist bully screw and the sadistic corrupt warden, in a movie that veers between gritty toughness and unbearable sentimentality, in a pic that is saddled with strident dialogue and artificial prison scenes. When finally the air clears in this exhausting but laudable melodrama, it feels good when Morgan Freeman, the film’s narrator, tells us his good friend Andy “crawled out of a river of shit and came out clean.”

It helps matters considerably in this somewhat hamstrung pic (the dialogue is stilted) that Robbins gives an endearing subdued performance and the always reliable Freeman gives a crowd-pleasing showy performance (at least that was good enough for me, as I was genuinely moved by how the white-collar Robbins character survived in such a brutal and alien environment).


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”