“They send you here for life, and that’s exactly what they take”
Well, this has been a long time coming!
If you’ve taken notice of our poll, you would see that Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption is currently the most popular choice to get reviewed here. And well, I don’t like to disappoint. Be warned that there will be pretty major spoilers and in-depth analysis of the plot and its themes. Without any further ado, let’s get into the review of IMDb’s highest rated film, The Shawshank Redemption.
The Shawshank Redemption primarily follows convicts Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) and Red (Morgan Freeman) as they serve their sentences in Shawshank prison, a mega-jail full to the brim of murderers and rapists to name but a few. Their friendship is tested over the course of the film, spanning decades, and ultimately, their lives are changed forever. I don’t want to go into too much detail because a plot as densely packed as The Shawshank Redemption‘s deserves to be witnessed first-hand. Unfortunately, some of the more iconic scenes, for example Andy rejoicing after breaking out of Shawshank, were spoilt for me due to the sheer amount of pop culture references that this classic has produced. The plot was utterly fantastic, with several twists that I didn’t expect, and as I’m sure you know, plenty of the character development that I so crave.
It’s hard to pull off a film where there isn’t a ‘hero’ so to speak, because really, none of the people featured are morally correct. All characters, be it the prisoners themselves, prison guards and wardens, and even the very few civilians we see, are all incredibly flawed, which adds to the general moral ambiguity of the film. Although characters proclaim they are innocent or they are rehabilitated, it’s clear that none of those in this film are good people, which does make the film’s tone incredibly bleak. However, that’s not to say the characters weren’t likeable. Certain characters I really felt for, especially Andy during his first few years at Shawshank, where he was beaten, raped and abused, but mostly for Brooks. His storyline is arguably the most powerful throughout this film, and it really shocked and saddened me when he hanged himself. The late James Whitmore was truly spectacular as Brooks, who demonstrated that life outside Shawshank is really not life at all for these inmates.
Leading on from this, performances are generally incredible. My standout performer was Tim Robbins as Andy, mainly due to his incredibly versatile performance brought on by the dramatic change that Andy goes through over his time at Shawshank. As he serves his sentence, he begins to emulate the inmates he so despised when he was just a ‘fish’, until the point where he quotes Heywood when talking to new inmate Tommy. Robbins’ performance was layered: showing the scarred, cold side of Andy after repeatedly being raped and beaten, and the caring yet conniving side shown by his undertaking of Tommy and his master plan to escape. Also superb is Morgan Freeman, who has, in my opinion, the best performance of his career in this film, and due to the lengthy and successful career he has had, that’s saying something. Other great performances were, as mentioned, James Whitmore as Brooks, Bob Gunton as Warden Norton and also Clancy Brown as the brutal prison guard Captain Hadley.
From a production standpoint, The Shawshank Redemption is absolutely spectacular. Some of the wide establishing shots are phenomenal, and the camera’s inventive panning around characters during conversation is hard to notice, but incredibly skillful and immersive. Music is also employed very efficiently, with Thomas Newman’s score inserted at just the right moment to either raise the tension of the scene, for example Brooks’ suicide, or to make the scene feel dramatic and iconic, primarily shown in the classic scene of Andy kneeling in the rain, having escaped. However, sometimes the audio didn’t quite match up to the characters’ mouth movement, which although very minor, was still quite distracting.
The Shawshank Redemption‘s underlying theme of hope is also employed very interestingly. Those characters which hope and dream for something usually achieve it, for example Andy escaping Shawshank or Tommy passing high school, but those who have no ambition tend to flop, such as Andy early on in the film, or Brooks, who gives up on life after leaving Shawshank. This theme adds to the incredibly bleak tone of The Shawshank Redemption, and also helped to ground some performances.
The film touches on some incredibly sensitive issues, for example police corruption, rape and suicide, and most films would’ve had trouble pulling these off, but thanks to the careful direction from Frank Darabont and the sublime performances from the leading cast, these issues are dealt with perfectly and helped add to the depth of the characters and the emotion of the film, and I’ll admit that I teared up a little over Brooks’ final letter and the entire sequence of him outside of Shawshank.
The script itself is also very good, with the conversation between inmates and occasionally between guards very natural, almost emulating normal speech, but also managing to touch upon some serious issues and adding to the film’s theme of hope. Written by Frank Darabont and based on the Stephen King short story Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, the screenplay is one of the standouts of the film.
Normally at this stage of a review, I would go on to discuss what I didn’t enjoy about The Shawshank Redemption, but to be truthful, there wasn’t a lot. As I mentioned, speech was a bit out of sync at times, and some plot twists, for example Tommy’s murder, were a bit predictable, but other than that I didn’t come across many issues with The Shawshank Redemption.
As I’m sure you’re all aware, The Shawshank Redemption currently resides at #1 on the IMDb Top 250, and personally, I’d say that it probably isn’t the best film of all time. Don’t get me wrong, I thought it was spectacular, but whether or not it compares to greats such as The Godfather, The Dark Knight or Pulp Fiction is for another article entirely. I will say that I absolutely adored The Shawshank Redemption, and it’s probably in my top 5 films of all time, or if not top 10. Fantastic performances, a genuinely touching story and superb direction help make The Shawshank Redemption a truly timeless classic.
I give The Shawshank Redemption 9 out of 10.
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