ORIGINALLY WRITTEN BOB WADE
“The Green Mile.” Rated: R. I give it a 5 on a scale of 5.
Where does a person begin when discussing the latest Frank Durabont-directed movie to come out in video. “The Green Mile” in many ways defies description. It is a tale of both violence and compassion, of bigotry and racial understanding, of inhumanity and kindness.
With help from Tom Hanks, arguably the top box-office draw of the 1990s, Durabont manages to create a film on par with his previous 1994 classic, “The Shawshank Redemption.”
Hanks plays Paul Edgecomb, the man in charge of death row in a Louisiana penitentiary during the Depression, and writer Stephen King couldn’t have hoped for a better fit in the role.
The same can be said for all the actors who walk the mile, whether as guards or prisoners. There is Doug Hutchison as Percy Wetmore, a nephew of the governor. He could have any state job he wants, despite his incompetence at everything, but he chooses to work the Green Mile -named for the tile color of the walk to the electric chair. He wants to see a prisoner fry “up close” before he moves on.
In the meantime, he makes life miserable wherever he goes. Edgecomb is ably assisted by Brutus “Brutal” Howell (David Morse), and this summer, Paul needs all the help he can get. He is suffering from a painful urinary tract infection that he is hoping to ride out as the 1930s cure for such things is often worse than the ailment.
When John Coffey-“like the drink, only not spelled the same”-arrives, Edgecomb is already dealing with convicted murderer Eduard Delacroix (Michael Jeter). Coffey was found guilty of raping and killing two white girls after he was caught holding their little bodies in his massive arms and crying. He offers no explanation except to say he couldn’t “take it back.”
Big John offers no resistance, and most who come in contact with him consider him a simpleton who exudes a calming effect on all around him. But, Edgecomb soon comes to realize, there is more to this giant of a man than meets the eye, and he sets out on an investigation of his own.
Meanwhile, another prisoner arrives, a loathsome killer named “Wild Bill” Wharton (Sam Rockwell). He has the opposite effect on the cell block, wreaking havoc in any way he can. He is vile, vicious and vindictive, matching Wetmore in shear animal cruelty.
This story calls for some patience. It runs just over three hours. But King has written a tale that will draw viewers in so that they will feel every minute was well-spent.
I read the book (actually a series of short novels rolled into one) before I saw the film. That may heighten understanding of the plot, but it is not necessary. The movie contains a fair amount of violence and crude language that one would expect from an R-rated prison film. Both are balanced, however, by the compassionate nature of the prison guards and Coffey.
This is story that has been known to make grown men cry at the injustice of John Coffey’s treatment, of man’s basic inhumanity to man. I would not recommend it for young teenagers, but I believe mature teens could benefit from its message when viewed with an adult.
Like Hanks’s “Saving Private Ryan,” “The Green Mile” is as good as it is disturbing.
Bob Wade is a local video enthusiast. The videos he reviews come courtesy of Quick Flick/Radio Shack, 110 N. Main, Hillsboro.