There was no real reason as to why I hadn’t watched Shawshank Redemption until a few days ago. I hadn’t been avoiding it on purpose, or constantly forgetting to watch it, and it certainly wasn’t due to a lack of free time. I’ve been meaning to watch it for about 4 or 5 years, since my dad told me how brilliant it was, but I could never get hold of a DVD due to the age barrier, and once I turned 18 I forgot how much I needed to watch it. But, since I started writing these reviews, I can be chatting to someone about films, and as soon as I told them I hadn’t seen Shawshank, all previous views that I held were invalid, and rightly so.
The issue that then arises is hype. Have I been told too many times, by too many people, about how brilliant the movie is? Can there be any chance that it measures up to the great reviews it has received from apparently the entire world? Was I going to be left wanting at the end?
No. No I wasn’t.
A tense plot to rival any thriller. Memorable dialogue that can be (and has been) quoted over and over. And a heart-warming ending to top any romance film. Not the best film I’ve ever seen, or the best film I ever will see, but it is certainly very difficult to pick any flaws. On a cast far from all-star, in a basic setting with not much room to manoeuvre, the movie still manages to hit all of the right notes, and hit them hard.
There’s not much point mentioning the brilliance of Morgan Freeman, because everyone knows his talent and how it has been put to marvellous use here as prison veteran, Red. More interesting is the performance of Tim Robbins and Andy Dufresne. I can’t tell if it’s a well-acted masterclass, portraying a young man apparently out of his depth in a new environment, or if it’s slightly wooden and shy, which just so happened to work beautifully for the character. I’d rather give the benefit of the doubt and say that the months spent studying prisoners and wardens before filming paid off, and some brilliant acting came out the other end to show for it.
The movie is not without its more shocking moments, such as the beating of the “new fish” on the day of Andy’s arrival and the poor demise of Brooks upon his release. These are both relatively early on in proceedings, which keeps the audience intrigued for any sudden outbursts later. The film certainly has slow points, but these are still mixed in with memorable moments, such as the record player/PA system scene. Unlike many other films though, these slow points are adding huge, but subtle, plot devices, which make the ending all the more magical.
This subtlety is one of my favourite aspects. So many things are said, and not explained. Because explanation takes something away. The only part of the movie that adds unnecessary dialogue is where Andy is explaining the money laundering plan to Red. This can be excused however, as this is a relatively complex part of the story, and the clearer it is makes it easier to understand down the line. This means that the film needs to be followed closely, not just listening to what’s being said, but reading in between those lines in order to follow the story. The closer you follow the film, the more you get out of it. This is a clever technique to ensure that the audience is engrossed throughout, and is executed perfectly. It is possible to be too subtle, and the story is just a mess, while being too obvious with the dialogue leaves no time for story progression. Shawshank Redemption manages to find the balance needed for a great film.
Add to this the clever side-stories of chess and “the sisters”, and suddenly the film is building all the way to an inevitably exciting conclusion, although it’s not entirely obvious what it will be. Will he be killed? Will he escape? Will he kill someone else? When the truth is finally revealed, it is a masterstroke. Just as we think he is going to end it all, We find that hope has prevailed and a happy ending awaits.
The final happy ending though, involving Red and Andy, is interestingly upbeat considering some of the darker tones of the movie. Allegedly, original plans for the final scene involved Red going off to uncertainty and most likely death. Luckily, the backstage crew decided that the audience had been pushed through enough emotional turmoil to watch a beloved old man die (again), so they allowed one of the happiest endings of all time to take place.
It’s been a long time coming for me to watch this movie, but it more than lived up to expectations. Not to the hype, not to the 9.4 rating on IMDb (not that IMDb is a good benchmark for film quality), but it did far exceed my high expectations, and I would find it hard to disagree that it is one of the greatest movies of all time.