Ah, the classics. If you were to ask the users on IMDb, The Shawshank Redemption would be the greatest film of all time. Go to any film database that allows user ratings; you’re likely to see this within its top 100, if not 50 or 20 or 10. With so much appeal, it’s obvious I’ll wish to view it eventually.
Is it the greatest film ever? Nah. Is it a great film? Well, it certainly makes a case.
“Two imprisoned men bond over a number of years, finding solace and eventual redemption through acts of common decency.” – IMDb
(Will also note that the film is based on the Stephen King novella “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” from his Different Seasons collection.)
When it comes to adapted works of Stephen King, my experience is a bumpy one. King, himself, has had many stories adapted to other media, whether miniseries or films, many of which are critically-acclaimed. The Shining, Stand By Me, Secret Window, It (new one) and Carrie are all ones I’ve personally seen outside of this—though none outright terrible, I’ve yet to see one truly remarkable.
In the past, I reviled the way King was so blunt with his moral messaging. Nowadays, it really depends on how the point is communicated. Messages can be blunt so long as it doesn’t appear sloppily handled or executed in a silly manner. Context matters, as do the events that transcribe these morals. So be it.
Describing this, there’s really not much for me to say here. I’m serious this time, not like yesterday. When it comes to The Shawshank Redemption, it comes down to one key flaw:
Inspiring, But Kind of Dull
Performances are good. Pacing is good. Ending is good. Themes of humanity and hope are good. Nothing seems too far-fetched and the events of the plot are fairly air-tight. I was never totally bored at any point. (Though it is maybe a tad long.) These are likable, charming, multi-dimensional characters in an environment that seeks to claw the soul from the body.
Gray, desolate walls and settings, with a lot of dark insinuations like rape, brutality, corruption, and a variety of others. All sorts of ways to mentally ravage an individual, provided in an appropriately blunt (yet restrained) manner to unease the audience. The environmental storytelling is as poignant as the somewhat obnoxious voiceover.
What I’m trying to express is that The Shawshank Redemption has many good qualities. What it never truly had was my full immersion. How much do I really care about these kind of dull characters? In a sense, they’re more pawns within a bigger story of cruelty. Their purpose is to showcase the themes in a roundabout way, which works, only it can also cement the characters more as tools.
Emotionally speaking, it could have been much stronger. My investment in the characters’ plights was only passively swayed. Will I recall these characters after the fact, or more of the things they’ve done or prose they’ve spouted? This certainly didn’t ruin the entire film for me… just how much more I could’ve appreciated it.
Technically speaking, The Shawshank Redemption is very strong. Hard to find much to complain about it if you’re only focusing on the objective details. On that merit, it’s certainly deserving of the praise it receives. Unfortunately for me, I wasn’t as taken by the human side of things, seeing it more as people on a page transported to a new reality which didn’t translate as realistic.
Certainly recommendable, nonetheless!
Final Score: 7.5/10
The rating for all other films can be found at Letterboxd.
For more, check out the March of the Movies Archive!
Thank you for your time. Have a great timezone.