The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

So here we are. The end of the line, number one, the greatest film ever as per the list I have been so diligently working from. Like so many other people I heard about The Shawshank Redemption through word-of-mouth, it being a poor performer at the box office that solidified its viewership through the medium of VHS, and when I saw it I felt it was pretty alright and didn’t give much thought about it later on – one of the other novellas from the Stephen King collection the film was adapted from made a greater impact on me when I had read it, perhaps that had something to do with it. So flash forward however many years when I find my way to using IMDb and figure out there’s a list of the best films ever, and it comes as a surprise to find this film at the top. Was it that good? I’ll have to re-watch that some day. And then some more years pass, and finally I’ve seen it again.

Banker Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), convicted of killing his wife and her lover, bonds with fellow inmate Ellis “Red” Redding (Morgan Freeman), assists Warden Norton (Bob Gunton) in a complex money-laundering operation, and never succumbs to the soul-crushing weight of being behind Shawshank’s walls. Robbins is oddly distant for the entire film, but intentionally so, playing up the dignity that keeps separate from the other prisoners, and Freeman, though warm and likeable, suffers a little from this role being the one he would reprise for basically the rest of his career. It’s a fine film, a fine tale about holding on to hope in hopeless circumstances, but following The Godfather it can’t help but feel lacking – I don’t want to undercut Frank Darabont as so far he’s three for three with me in adapting works of an author that continually prove incredibly difficult to adapt to the screen, but it does come off as quite simple and plain compared to Coppola’s rich saga. I feel much the same now as I did when I first saw it: it’s good, but it’s not great. I can’t help but think that it retains its position on IMDb’s big list because of a certain strain of people that resist to the death being told what to think and refuse to ever change their minds once set – they’re not content to accept the traditional answer to “What is the best film ever made?” and champion instead this once-obscure underdog of a film, this casual rental they picked up on a whim and turned out to be surprisingly good actually. It seems a bit of a shame to close this project with a whimper instead of a bang, and I do like the film; it’s just there’s a handful of others I’d rather see at the top of the list.


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