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影评:绿里奇迹

(2010-08-14 07:06:26)
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Redemption on the Mile

 

-A Review on The Green Mile

 

影评绿里奇迹

 

By William Zhang

 

影评:绿里奇迹

 

Frank Darabont is undoubtedly the world’s most recognized filmmaker when it comes to turning Stephen King’s classics into major motion pictures. The Shawshank Redemption has become a ‘prison-flick’ classic despite the fact that initially it was in fact a box office flop. His latest work, The Mist, was ranked as ‘One of the Best Horror Movies of the Decade’ and cements him as one of the top directors in America. However, I’m here to introduce and review a film that falls somewhere between the emotional nature of The Shawshank Redemption and the supernatural horrors of The Mist.

 

It’s called The Green Mile.

 

Set in Louisiana during the Great Depression of the 1930s, the film recounts Paul Edgecomb, a correction’s officer’s (Tom Hanks) incredible encounter with a black inmate named John Coffey (Michael Clark Duncan) who was accused of killing and raping two young white girls. Due to severity of his crimes, John was placed onto the Death Row, awaiting the stretch of green linoleum road that led to the electric chair. However, Paul soon discovered that John was more than a simple, illiterate black man, and that his most fundamental values regarding truth, honesty and compassions was to be challenged and shaken to its very core.

 

Does this sound ‘typical’? Is this just one of those typical ‘super-duper magic negro’ films that has failed to stand the test of time?

 

Is this, really, just one of those horribly clichéd film?

 

The answer is quite simple: the film was a terrific flick. At times, the film seemed to almost defy the conventions.

 

Darabont was obviously trying to create a film that harbours a lot of meaning—he is trying, almost desperately, to inject a stream of humanity, compassion and empathy into a setting as harsh and unforgiving as the prison Death Row. And the way he achieved it was through the wonderful on-screen performance of the actors, not only from Hanks but from almost every single actor on the set, whose invigorating performance was not only convincing but at times, incredibly moving.

 

Paul Edgecomb was essentially the narrator, the calm, cool-headed leader of the Death Row, yet it was from him (and the acting of Tom Hanks) that we discover the most sincere human emotions beneath his ‘shell of composedness’. At times, I felt he was the man in charge—he came up with several witty schemes such as drugging the maniacal inmate, ‘Wild Bill’ Wharton, and showing Percy, the sadistic and arrogant prison guard who was truly in control by throwing him into the detention room as a punishment. Yet at times, he was bound down by his duty as a corrections officer, and all he could do was watch helplessly as Coffey was sent to the electric chair. It seemed that despite his enormous influence over his sector of governance, there was little he could do to change Coffey’s fate-or his own. The complexity of this character was fantastically acted out by Hanks, and his acting was what essentially drove the plot.

 

John Coffey was the primary protagonist of the film. At first, he might seem as a two-dimensional character who literally ‘dropped out of the skies’ to bring salvation to the people in the Death Row. Yet, his character goes beyond a simple cardboard stereotype. For me, John Coffey contained a portion of innocence and naive nature normally not seen in similar films. John Coffey’s insistence to die and the fact he asked for the black-hood to be taken off for ‘fear of darkness’ was incredibly moving and was almost shockingly subtle in terms of the avant-garde approach to grab attention and make one think again of the basic values in a human: justice, compassion and sympathy towards others. Michael Clark Duncan’s acting was subtle yet emotionally moving and the contrast of his simple-mind-ness and Paul’s contemplated personality was well laid-out.

 

The main protagonists, John and Paul, were supplemented by a number of support characters, namely Percy (Doug Hutchinson), Eduard Delacroix (Michael Jeter) and ‘Wild Bill’ Wharton (Sam Rockwell). Those three characters were much simpler in nature, though their acting was by no means bland and uninspired. Percy’s evil and sadistic nature was contrasted by Eduard’s light-hearted humour and eventually, remorse for his crimes. Eduard’s chant ‘Walking the Mile’ created some much-needed humour in the film and gave the solemn atmosphere of the Death Row a spark of hope. ‘Wild Bill’ Wharton’s characterisation can be literally summed up in one word: malice.

 

Besides the acting, the cinematography employed by the director was also quite amazing. The flash-back show to Paul via John’s supernatural powers was done in a montage format—even though the cinematography was quite clichéd, the effects achieved was absolutely striking. Slow-motion shots were employed during emotional scenes such as during executions, and the choice of camera-angles for the entire film gave the tone of the movie, in general, an ‘oppressed’ atmosphere as if the viewer was sitting in the prison himself, awaiting death. The scene of Eduard’s execution was bone-chillingly frightening and horrifying.

 

No movie is ever or should be perfect, and The Green Mile is not without its flaws. The introduction of the film seemed to have been done in a rush and in my opinion, the introduction of the 108-year-old Paul Edgecomb could’ve been done in a much more subtle manner. Secondly, the pace of the film was slow and at times seemed to drag on and on—one could argue that this was done deliberately to echo the life in a prison, but I personally feel that if a story can be told in two hours, then by all means do so! The film was weighed down by several subplots (such as the miraculous healing of the Warden’s wife) which I felt was unnecessary in terms of developing the main characters to their full extent.

 

The greatest flaw in the film, however, was the vain attempt in turning John Coffey into a saint-like figure. An important element in a prison film is to create honest characters, and the supernatural powers of John Coffey simply do not seem to do the genre justice. Perhaps Darabont was trying to be innovative, but I feel that ‘breathing out hundreds of locusts’ out of John’s mouth simply did not feel in-sync with the historical and social background of the film’s setting. The over use of special effects dampened the film’s realism to a certain extent.

 

The Green Mile is certainly a classic. The acting and the cinematography was blended in a story of redemption and Christ-like compassion, topped off with Darabont’s virtuosity in filmmaking. Even though at times the storyline and concept might seem flawed, the film is certainly worth the three hours it encompasses. It was as if when you watch the film, you really could feel your feet thudding on the green linoleum flooring and walking the Green Mile that at times, feels so long.



[1] Coined by renowned African-American director Spike Lee. Used to describe a common set-up where the main character, usually White, has a Black friend who helps him out in life.

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