Turn Back the Clock
The Green Mile
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
The Green Mile started off as a series of chapter novellas from Stephen King. It was an experiment. Sure, King fans would by his full length novels and short story anthologies, but would they still be willing to spend money if he broke down a novel into six parts? I, for one, was not impressed by this experiment and had chosen to pass this marketing scheme up. When it was announced that The Green Mile would be made into a film starring Tom Hanks in the lead role, I thought back to that 6-part novel I passed up and decided to check out the much talked about film. Once I saw the movie, I immediately went out and bought the full length novel that started it all.
The Green Mile is not your ordinary Stephen King horror flick. In fact, there is very little blood and guts and no vampires, witches or blood-thirsty dogs in this tale. The story begins in a nursing home where an elderly man tells a close friend a story about when he used to work as a guard on Death Row at the Cold Mountain Penitentiary, also known to all who worked and lived there as The Green Mile thanks to the green painted floors. Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) was in charge of Death Row and saw to it that every execution was carried out professionally and every prisoner was given the opportunity to die with dignity despite their crime.
Things were going business as usual until a new prisoner was brought to The Green Mile. John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan) appeared to be a gentle giant, but looks can be deceiving and he was on Death Row for raping and killing two little girls. Despite the crimes he has been convicted of, John Coffey seemed as meek and simple as a little boy and Paul Edgecomb had trouble believing that Coffey could have committed this crime, especially after witnessing a miracle at the hands of the convicted killer. How can someone given such a gift from God have committed such despicable acts? As Edgecomb soon discovered, John Coffey was more than just a prisoner, he was a test of love and blind faith. Before he met John Coffey, Paul Edgecomb didn’t believe in miracles, afterwards, he would never forget him.
Despite the fact that the prisoners of The Green Mile are all on Death Row for a reason, you find yourself feeling a strange sort of sympathy for them. The story is designed that way - the viewer feels the same about the prisoners as those who are guarding them. In order for things to go smoothly in this cellblock, the guards, with the exception of the ill-mannered and abusive Percy Wetmore (Doug Hutchison), attempt to treat the prisoners with kindness and respect. Death Row prisoners have nothing to lose and the guards want to keep them in line, therefore, they provide a calm environment for their prisoners, allowing them their simple pleasures, like pictures, or in Eduard Delacroix’s (Michael Jeter) case, a stray mouse that can perform tricks. Thus, you find yourself feeling sorry for Arlen Bitterbuck (Graham Greene) when he is led to “Old Sparky” and outraged at Percy’s purposeful botching of Delecroix’s execution.
However, there is no sympathy felt for the rowdy psychopathic prisoner known as “Wild Bill” Wharton. There is even less sympathy for Percy Wetmore. This is an important message to the viewer - evil can come in many faces. Evil is easiest recognized in the form of the murderous Wharton, but is Percy any less evil in his actions? They are one in the same, except Wharton has been locked up for his sins, but justice ensures that Percy is punished for his sins as well (with a little help from a miracle).
There is another lesson in this film, one that some of us may have learned in bible study. Those given the ability to perform miracles often struggle with the task. They may feel that their very abilities, although helpful to others, have proven a curse for themselves. In Coffey’s case, he has the ability to sense others’ pain and all of the pain and suffering in the world has become a painful burden for him to carry. Coffey is filled with sadness at the pain and suffering in the world inflicted by the very people who profess to love one another and is relieved when the moment arrives that will put an end to his pain.
The movie’s powerful story is acted out by an amazing cast. Tom Hanks is incredibly believable as Paul Edgecomb. I had never seen Michael Clarke Duncan before this film, but it was immediately apparent that he was the perfect choice to play John Coffey. Doug Hutchison was despicable as Percy Wetmore. Other excellent performances included Bonnie Hunt as Paul’s wife, Barry Pepper as Green Mile Guard Dean Stanton, David Morse as Green Mile Guard Brutus Howell, Sam Rockwell as Wild Bill Wharton, James Cromwell as Warden Hal Moores and Patricia Clarkson as Melinda Moores.
When I first watched The Green Mile, I had no idea how close the director, Frank Darabont, kept to the novel. After the movie inspired me to read the book, I simply had to watch the film again and marvel at the achievement. This is one of the few adaptations of a Stephen King novel to film that doesn’t stray from the source material. Sure, some things had to be skipped over for time’s sake, but those small scene omissions don’t take anything away from the story at all.
The DVD version of The Green Mile includes the featurette, Walking the Mile, which contains interviews with cast, crew and Steven King. The featurette offers up quite a few interesting tidbits of information. For example, watching the movie, I never would have guessed that it wasn’t filmed in an actual cellblock, but the entire prison set was made from scratch. The viewer also gains assets into cast selection, camera angles and more.
The Green Mile is a long film at just over three hours, but it’s well worth the watch with a thought-provoking and captivating story, excellent cinematography, and a terrific cast. Any Stephen King fan will love this film. Those who don’t like Stephen King - well, this isn’t your average Stephen King tale, so if it’s drama you like with a smattering of the supernatural, I most definitely recommend you check out The Green Mile.