(Check out the list so far)
The Movie: The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
One Sentence Plot Summary: Andy Dufresne may or may not be guilty but he plays the long game and escapes the prison despite not being able to narrate his own story.
Why It’s on the List: In 1994, Forrest Gump became one of the most popular movies of the year. While it received critical acclaim as well, Zemeckis’s schmaltzy classic was very much a populist four quadrant success that eventually won best picture. From a critical perspective, Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction was regarded as one of the most important and original films of that year. Then, there was this movie. The Shawshank Redemption was a critical hit but not a box office one. Almost immediately, it came a hit on home video and quickly became a staple of repeated viewings on cable television. Networks like AMC and TNT have repeated this movie thousands of times over the last 25 years.
I remember seeing this in a religion class my sophomore. I have forgotten the context in which I saw this film, but I remember being in awe of it at that time. My love for The Shawshank Redemption has only grown. I feel like most people might have it even higher on a potential list of favorites. I’m not a big prison drama guy. The fact that I retain as much enjoyment out of this one as I do is a minor miracle. Everything from the visual aesthetic to the screenplay worked out incredibly well. It’s one of the few movies I’ve ever seen where the main character is not the narrator. Morgan Freeman was the narrator, and it feels like this is the movie where the trope started. He excels as a narrator and is one of the few who can do this well.
Everything clicks into place. All of the characters feel important, and as tragic as the story of Brooks is, it’s great that the movie takes a few minutes to tell the story of a man who manages to get out and struggle to readjust. It’s probably a story that should be told more given the system that exists here. Clancy Brown is probably best known for disappearing into his voice work, but he is quite good as Captain Headley. He dials it up and is used sparingly enough to where the effect is never lost.
In the end, Andy escapes. It’s one of the more iconic moments in film history and one that won’t surely be forgotten any time.
*Some major league homophobia and prison rape (involving “the sisters,” which still feels like it’s “acceptable” because prisoners are regarded as subhuman. Let’s make those jokes stop.
MVP: Somehow, Roger Deakins didn’t win an Academy Award for his work as cinematographer for this film. Frank Darabont is an underrated director, but it’s the way this film is shot that makes it work. Although a dark and dank prison, Deakins makes it feel bigger than it has any right to be. The way the camera moves almost makes it feel like a musical at times. What I love most is how timeless this feels. This was a movie made in the 1990s but retains the classical nature of movies from this era
Best Performance: This has to be the peak of Tim Robbins’s career and even though he has gone on to do some excellent work over the years, this is his ultimate role. He got a chance to play the protagonist in what a lot people have come to believe is the greatest film of all-time. Robbins comes off icy and cold throughout a lot of the early portions but eventually transitions into a real protagonist as we see him get beaten up and picked on. By the end, after he’s been manipulated by the officers and warned, I can’t imagine an audience member not being with Andy at the end.
Best Quote: “I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living, or get busy dying.” – Andy Dufresne
Is there a sequel? No, although The Green Mile feels like a spiritual sequel.