Five Criminals: ‘The Usual Suspects’

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The Usual Suspects

“The Usual Suspects” Review

Cast

Kevin Spacey…………………Verbal Klint
Chazz Palminteri……………..Dave Kujan
Gabriel Byrne…………………Dean Keaton

Credits

Director……………………….Bryan Singer
Producers…………………….Bryan Singer, Michael McDonnell
Writer………………………….Christopher McQuarrie

“The Usual Suspects” can really start getting away from you if you don’t pay attention. But if you’re focused, this time-skipping, seemingly disjointed suspense thriller will have you begging for more. That’s what happened with me, anyway.

The story is told through the eyes of Verbal Klint (played brilliantly by Kevin Spacey). Verbal sits in a police office, and is interrogated by Dave Kujan (Palminteri) – a cop – about the events leading up to the explosion of a ship at the harbour just two days ago. Verbal then begins to tell the story of the 5 ‘usual suspects,’ and how the events unfolded.

And from this moment, the movie starts skipping timelines. At times, the movie shows Verbal talking to Kujan, and at other times, it depicts the scenes that Verbal is describing to Kujan. Because the story is told through flashbacks, but also cuts to the present day, the film can get confusing. And add to that the fact that Verbal is an unreliable narrator, and we have all the recipes for a brain-twisting thriller. And boy does Bryan Singer deliver with one of the best films of the ‘90s.

The plot revolves around 5 criminals, the ‘usual suspects,’ who are seen in a line-up at the start of the film, where several guns have been hijacked, and the police are trying to find out which of the 5 it is. But no one budges, and the police are forced to let them go. But while they are awaiting their release from the police, the five begin to talk, and eventually create a plan for an emerald heist.

This was all in the past, by the way. Verbal sits in the cop’s office, and recalls this story. And as he tells the story, he talks of how the five carry out their plans, and the people they meet. Along the way, they hear of a legendary criminal, Keyser Soze, a man that is so shrouded in mystery that no one has seen him for close to two decades. Or at least, no one has lived to talk about it. But the myths that have been told about him are so terrifying, that even that hardest of criminals fear him.

The story of Soze looms larger and larger, and gradually becomes more important, until at one point, it becomes the main part of the plot. Most movie viewers will immediately know that Soze will have a part to play in the climax of the story, but no one would expect what Singer gives us. The film’s fantastic conclusion has to be the greatest movie ending I have ever seen, and I have seen many a great ending. ‘Witness for the Prosecution’ and ‘The Sixth Sense’ come close, but nothing has yet managed to match the conclusion of ‘The Usual Suspects.’

But the movie doesn’t stand simply on its conclusion. The rest of the plot is completely engaging and riveting; however, if a viewer doesn’t pay attention to the details, he may find himself losing the plot, and in this film, the moment you lose the grasp of the story, you fall behind, and you’ll never catch up. It is in this sense that the movie really makes you think, and always manages to keep you on the edge of your seat, even while your mind checks and double-checks everything you see. Also, as Verbal is an unreliable narrator, we are constantly kept guessing as to what is the “truth” and what is “real.”

The acting in this film is fantastic. Stepehen Baldwin brilliantly portrays a criminal with a maniacal bend. Benicio Del Toro and Kevin Pollak are also very good, with Del Toro providing some of the laughs that are strewn across this film. Of the supporting roles though, Gabriel Byrne has to be the best, as the hardened con man. He embodies his role completely, and is magnificent as Dean Keaton. However, the lead character, Verbal Klint, played by Spacey, has to be the stand-out performer of an already outstanding cast. His portrayal of a cowardly, yet strangely unbreakable criminal is one of Spacey’s best roles to date, although he is an incredible actor with other fine pieces like ‘American Beauty’ and ‘L.A. Confidential.’ This is probably why he got an Oscar for his role as Klint; he deserved every bit of it.

‘The Usual Suspects’ is not a normal movie by any stretch of imagination. Its winding time structure, and the fact that we are constantly kept guessing at both what will happen next, and what is real or not, makes it one of the most thought-provoking movies of the last two decades. Its amazing conclusion is just one cog in the wheel in Bryan Singer’s masterpiece. This film deserves every bit of critical acclaim it has got, and more. This is easily in my top 10 favourite films of all-time; so if you haven’t seen it yet, go and watch it in any way possible.

FINAL SCORE:

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Surreal, Violent, Brilliant: ‘Fight Club’

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Fight Club

“Fight Club” Review

Cast

Edward Norton……………………The Narrator
Tyler Durden……………………….Tyler Durden
Helena Bonham Carter…………..Marla Singer

Credits

Director…………………………….David Fincher
Producers………………………….Ross Grayson Bell, Ceán Chaffin, Art Linson
Writers……………………………..Chuck Palahniuk (novel), Jim Uhls (screenplay)

When people hear the words “Fight Club,” they think of an extremely violent and shallow movie about a bunch of boxers beating the living daylights out of each other.

Let me tell you right now that it is something far more than that.

There haven’t been too many movies in recent times that seem to have been as opinion-dividing as this film. Alright, maybe that’s an overstatement, but it still doesn’t change the fact that people have been arguing over “Fight Club” ever since it was released in 1999.

The story follows an unnamed office employee – referred to just as The Narrator – played brilliantly by Edward Norton. He has been suffering from insomnia for a while now; he wants medication for it, but his doctor, suspecting him to be a fraud – tell him stop complaining, and go see a testicular cancer support group if he wants to see people “in real pain.”

So Norton heeds this advice, and goes to one of these sessions. And to his astonishment, he finds that this support group helps him to let go of his emotions, which helps him begin to sleep again. Once he realizes that these emotional releases help him sleep, he signs up for several of these support groups: blood parasites, sickle-cell, tuberculosis, you name it. But then, a woman named Marla singer (played excellently by Helena Bonham Carter) “ruins everything.” She too was a ‘faker’ like Norton, except she just went to these groups for cheap entertainment. And when he learns that there is another faker in the midst, he can’t let out his emotions any more, and he finds himself unable to sleep. Again.

Then, while on an airplane ride, Norton meets Tyler Durden (played by Brad Pitt), a soap salesman who sees life a little differently from Norton. On this same day, an airline loses Norton’s baggage, and his apartment is blown up. Needing a place to stay, he moves in with Tyler, in one of the most run-down houses I’ve ever seen in a film. And this is when we embark on an enthralling journey that sees these two create Fight Club – an underground fighting club aimed to help people vent their emotions – and much more, all a part of Tyler Durden’s large and intricate plan.

The acting in this film is first-rate. Brad Pitt is outstanding as Tyler Durden, the unusual soap salesman, and was a real breakthrough in his career, as it showed that he wasn’t just a pretty face in Hollywood. Helena Bonham Carter is also very good as Marla Singer, the faker. However, I felt that Norton ran away with gold; his depiction of the insomnia-riddled Narrator is extraordinary.

In my opinion, Norton, now 42, has to be one of the best actors of his generation – a generation, I might add, that includes other illustrious names like Johnny Depp and Ralph Fiennes. Whether or not you agree with that last statement, Norton has to be one of my favourite actors at the moment, along with Gosling. There have been a whole host of others that have occupied these two spots, including Hanks, Clooney, and DiCaprio, but for the moment, it remains Gosling and Norton.

Either way, getting back to the film, the score is decent, though not awe-inspiring. My favourite scores in films are those that elevate the movie, though not become overbearing. I never really noticed this film’s score at any point, but maybe that’s how it’s meant to be. In my opinion, you have to be able to notice the good music, but not let it take over. But that’s just me.

“Fight Club” makes you think, especially near the end of the film, where the director reveals a shocking revelation to us. However, the film isn’t based solely on the twist, and though it has shock-value, it isn’t what makes this film great. What makes this film great, besides the fantastic acting and the unconventional directing, is the fact that it makes one think of society as a whole. It looks at society, and how society works, and it tells us a lot about people in today’s world.

This is an unusual film, and is directed in an unusual way. With its fantastic acting and thought-provoking ideas, this is a film that is very relevant in today’s world of consumerism. “Fight Club” is a brilliant movie with a controversial message, and probably requires more than one viewing to see just how good it is.

FINAL SCORE:

I Don’t Tip: ‘Reservoir Dogs’

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Reservoir Dogs

“Reservoir Dogs” Review

Cast

Steve Busceni…………………Mr. Pink
Tim Roth……………………….Mr. Orange
Lawrence Tierney……………Joe Cabot

Credits

Director…………………………Quentin Tarantino
Producer……………….……….Lawrence Bender
Writer……………………………Quentin Tarantino

Right off the bat, let me remind you that this is a Quentin Tarantino movie. Violence galore, and not for the faint of heart. You have been warned.

Whenever we hear the words ‘Quentin Tarantino,’ we think ‘Pulp Fiction’ and ‘Inglourious Basterds,’ and occasionally, the “Kill Bill” series. However, I think that “Reservoir Dogs” is just as good as the aforementioned films, if not better. The thing with Tarantino, though, is that you either love him or you hate him. In my case, it’s the former, and I think that this movie is one of his more thought-provoking films.

The story follows a team of robbers, as they are assembled for a heist of a jewellery store. They are each given fake names like Mr. White, Mr. Pink and Mr. Orange, so that if one of them were to be caught, he would be unable to rat the others out, no matter how much he is tortured or questioned. However, things go absolutely horribly wrong during the heist, prompting suspicions of a police informer in their midst. Of course, a Tarantino films would be incomplete without a non-linear time structure, and this movie flaunts it with pride. And this is where things can get a little confusing. If you don’t pay attention, you can very well find yourself in a deep hole, much as the characters find themselves in.

Speaking of the characters, the cast is a stellar one. From the fantastic Steve Busceni to the tough Lawrence Tierney, from Tim Roth to Michael Madsen, they all do a brilliant job. Every word spoken by the actors feels authentic, especially from Tierney, who is the big boss who has created this team of thieves. Michael Madsen also does a great job of portraying a psychopathic thief without who, the characters would never even have been in this mess. I felt that Busceni was the man who gave us the best performance as Mr. Pink; a seemingly tough and professional thief, who is probably the smartest of the lot. Right from the first scene, we see that Busceni’s character thinks on a different level as compared to the others, and it seems like he isn’t really cut out for the line of work he has chosen.

The direction is very Tarantino-esque, although his directing has changed quite a lot over the years since this film, which was made in 1992. However, at times, I felt the jumping back and forth in time was unnecessary at times; it felt almost forced at times. Although, at other times, it only added to the effect of the film, which all culminated to a high-octane, climactic finale.

The finale. Yes. That will probably have you thinking for a few days as to what exactly happened. The editing at the end is extremely tight, which makes it nearly impossible to physically figure out what happened. This may not really make a lot of sense to you right now, but once you see the movie, you’ll understand what I’m saying. But regardless of your interpretation of the finale – and there are a few different ones depending on how you saw it – the movie is an excellent one.

It didn’t rake in a lot of awards when it was released, although it really deserved more than it got. It was not nominated for any of the big awards (i.e. Oscars and Golden Globes), though it did win a few on the film festival circuit. It didn’t gross a great deal at the box office either, but this isn’t really an indication of how good the movie is. Over the years, the film has gotten a lot more eyeballs, and has gained an appreciation in the film-viewing community. But like I said, with Tarantino, it’s either you love him or you hate him, and the same can be said for “Reservoir Dogs.” Personally, I love this movie, but there are also several people who are on the complete other end of the spectrum, and don’t like any of Tarantino’s work. Except for “Inglourious Basterds.” Everybody likes ‘Inglourious Basterds.’

This is one of Tarantino’s best pieces of work to date, and considering the kind of movies he has made, that is no mean feat. “Reservoir Dogs” along with its non-linear timeline is a movie that may have you scratching your head for a few days. But that is not what holds up the film. The direction and the magnificent acting is what really makes this movie tick, and I have to say, I really, really enjoyed this one.

FINAL SCORE:

The Only Constant Is Change: ‘Half Nelson’

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Half Nelson

“Half Nelson” Review

Cast

Ryan Gosling………………….Dan Dunne
Shareeka Epps………………..Drey
Anthony Mackie………………Frank

Credits

Director………………………..Ryan Fleck
Producers……………………..Anna Boden, Charlie Corwin, Doug Dey
Writers………………………Ryan Fleck, Anna Boden

In the film, during a conversation between him and one of his students, Gosling says, “one thing doesn’t make a man.” However, in today’s world, especially in Hollywood, people tend to believe the opposite. If a person is bad in one aspect, he must be bad in every other aspect as well, is what people think.

And yet, Dan Dunne (played brilliantly by Ryan Gosling), defies logic in Ryan Fleck’s “Half Nelson”. Dunne is a middle-school history teacher in Brooklyn, and coaches the girls’ basketball team. But he’s a crack-addict. At the start of the movie, we see him wake up – complete with those dark circles under his eyes – on the floor of his apartment, having probably passed out the night before. He gets dressed and gets to school, trudging up the stairs with all the enthusiasm of a dead tortoise, and we think to ourselves, “Well, this looks like a run-of-the-mill addict.”

And then he gets to the classroom, and we see a man transformed. He comes alive when talks history with his students. We then see him on the basketball court, completely involved in his team’s practice. But just when we think he’s not who we think he is, we see him go back to his routine of smoking crack, and our fears are affirmed.

The story really begins when one of his students, Drey (played by Shareeka Epps) finds Dunne passed out on the floor of a school bathroom. She gets him some tissue paper, and helps him up. He says he’s sorry for letting her see him this way, and the two forget about the whole ordeal; yet somehow, it creates a connection between them.

The next time we see Dan on a basketball court, he is promptly chucked out after hurling a ball at the referee in anger. The following scene, when Dan drops Drey home after the game, is absolutely brilliant. The relationship that these two actors and characters share is what drives this movie. Though they may be completely different people (Dan, a Caucasian, middle-aged man, and Drey, an African-American middle-schooler), the way these two interact on-screen is absolutely fantastic.

As the two get closer, we see that Dan starts to care more and more for Drey. Her brother is in jail, so she takes all the helps she can get from her brother’s friends, and soon, she gets involved with the wrong sort. And as Dan begins to see this, he feels he needs to do something, and there is another great, emotionally-charged scene where he tells as man named Frank (played by Anthony Mackie) to “stay away from Drey,” because he thinks Frank is a bad influence on her.

The acting in this film is top-notch. Ryan Gosling plays Dan Dunne so well that he got nominated for Best Actor at the Oscars, but eventually lost out to Forest Whitaker, who played Idi Amin in “The Last King of Scotland.” Though Whitaker did a fine job as the Ugandan dictator, I felt Gosling did an equally good job in “Half Nelson.” Shareeka Epps – only 17 when she played Drey in this film – did just as well. Don’t take anything away from Anthony Mackie, though; despite the fact that he didn’t get a great deal of screen-time, he made every second count as a sort of guardian for Drey. With that said, Gosling is the one who stelas the show. I believe he is one of the finest prospects in the industry, and has to be one of the best actors of his generation. The film, however, doesn’t work on individual performances, but on the relationships between the characters.

The score was very well done as well, I thought, elevating the on-screen drama. Done mostly by Broken Social Scene, the music never became overbearing, and complimented the film very well. From a directing standpoint, too, the film was excellent. The direction, especially of the scenes with Dan and Drey, was fantastic; the performances may well have fallen flat if not for the stellar direction. What makes it even better is the fact that this was Ryan Fleck’s – the director – first feature film; for a first-timer, this a phenomenal performance.

During one scene, Dan says to his girlfriend, “the kids keep me focused,” and as the film goes on, we start to see that this is true. Even if everything else is messed up in his life – if he’s a coke addict, if his ex-girlfriend is getting married to another guy – he will remain focused on his students. He believes that he has never done anything right in his life, and finally he has the chance, which is why he wants to do right by Drey; he wants to take care of her, watch out for her, and this is where “Half Nelson” gets its power.

This movie challenges us to think differently. It tells us to judge a person not by how he looks, but by what he does. It makes us think differently, and it is refreshing. This is an out-and-out drama, and there isn’t a great deal of action in the movie. The film is driven by relationships and conversations, not by guns or action-packed scenes. It is a change in the pattern, and that in itself is a reason to go watch this movie. But it has so much more, from fantastic performances to risk-taking directing, this Ryan Gosling tour de force is a must-see.

FINAL SCORE:

But 1935, That Takes the Cake: ‘The Green Mile’

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The Green Mile

“The Green Mile” Review

Cast

Tom Hanks……………………..Paul Edgecomb
Michael Clarke Duncan.…….John Coffey
David Morse……………………Brutus Howell

Credits

Director…………………………Frank Darabont
Producers………………………Frank Darabont, David Valdes
Writers………………………….Stephen King (novel), Frank Darabont (screenplay)

Stephen King and Frank Darabont make a pretty decent combination, don’t you think? The former provides the idea on paper, the latter executes it flawlessly on the silver screen. We saw just how good ‘Shawshank’ turned out to be, and “The Green Mile” is another testament to great filmmaking.

Our protagonist is Paul Edgecomb (Hanks), who is the ward supervisor of Death Row at Lousiana Cold Mountain Penitentiary. Along with him are three other Death Row guards, played by David Morse, Barry Pepper, and Jeffrey DeMunn. The film follows these four as they go about their duties at Death Row, until one day, a new inmate arrives at the penitentiary. He is a huge black man named John Coffey, and is in for raping and murdering two young girls. You’d think it’s tough to sympathize with someone like that.

And yet, from the moment Coffey enters the ward, we see there is something not right. He may be massive, but he is an incredibly soft-spoken man, and he’s afraid of the dark too. As we go along with the movie, we learn more and more about John, the guards, and the other inmates. The story takes a supernatural turn about halfway through, but it is more of a spiritual supernatural, not a haunting kind (as we are accustomed to in Stephen King books).

Both “Shawshank” and “The Green Mile” are prison stories, but they are very different stories. “Shawshank” itself was not a regular prison movie, and neither is this film. And Darabont takes his time to show us this. In fact, the total runtime of this movie is just over 3 hours, which is quite a lot longer than most movies today. And like “Shawshank”, “The Green Mile” – which gets its name from the lime green flooring from the jail cells to the execution hall – is deliberate and slow, taking time to
establish an environment. In fact, he takes over an hour to show us the world, and to help us get to know everybody, be it the fair and just Warden, or Paul’s kind and supportive wife. Darabont is in no hurry to get to the ‘exciting’ stuff, and this is one thing that makes this film so good. If the movie was an hour shorter, I’m sure everything would feel much more contrived, and this movie would not be close to as good as it is now.

The character development in the film is absolutely fantastic, especially because of the longer runtime. Each character is given enough time to establish a connection with the audience, and make us feel for them, and make us feel like we are right there with them. The ever-impressive Barry Pepper pulls of his character remarkably well, showing us a kind, gentle, and sympathetic guard. Sam Rockwell did a fantastic job as the aptly nicknamed Wild Bill, an inmate on Death Row; he did very well as a
violent and manipulative convict. However, of the secondary characters, I think David Morse steals the show as a dependable and rock-solid guard, while also showing us that the hardest of men are vulnerable too.

But the movie really rides on the relationship between Hanks’ character Paul, and towering John Coffey, played by, yes, Michael Clarke Duncan. The connection these two share is what makes the film so great. Paul is sympathetic, and is completely committed to his job, which is why he wants to the best he can for Coffey. I will not give away what the supernatural aspect of the film is, but I will say that it is the crux of this relationship, and ultimately, is the crux of the entire movie.

This film, essentially, is about morality and ethics. When does doing your job stop being a duty and start becoming just plain wrong? It’s a question that probably cropped up in Paul Edgecomb’s mind several times, and, I’m sure, in the audience’s minds too. This movie will have you doing some soul-searching after the gut-wrenching finale.

It’s not every day that you see a movie matching up to the book it has been adapted from. But Frank Darabont manages to make an already excellent book into an even better movie. And this is not something easy to do. The acting and character development is first-rate here, as is the writing, which has not just drama, but some comedy too. If you’re looking for a lot of action, then you’re watching the wrong movie. “The Green Mile” doesn’t revolve around action, but more on the relationships between the characters, and the emotions that they bring out of the audience. Nevertheless, I recommend this movie to one and all, as it really is a very good and
thought-provoking film.

FINAL SCORE:

Dwarves, Drugs, and Death: ‘In Bruges’

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In Bruges

“In Bruges” Review

Cast

Colin Farrell………………….Ray
Brendan Gleeson……………Ken
Ralph Fiennes……………….Harry

Credits

Director………………………Martin McDonagh
Producers……………………Jeff Abberley, Julia Blackman, Tessa Ross
Writers………………………..Martin McDonagh

You don’t often find movies that can make you cry and laugh at the same time. And yet, “In Bruges” defies logic, and does this with ease. The movie is about two hitmen, Ray (Farrell) and Ken (Gleeson), who have to go into hiding in Bruges, Belgium. Right from the onset, we know that Ray hates Bruges. He doesn’t even need to get off the train before telling us that he hates Bruges. Ken is far more open-minded, and comes to enjoy what the city has to offer.

Ken and Ray have been sent by their boss, Harry, to Bruges to lay low for a while, after a job went bad. The job was to kill a priest in Dublin, but Ray accidentally, while killing the priest, managed to land a stray bullet into the skull of a young boy. What follows is a story of two men who are changed by this event and circumstances they are in.

At first, Ray doesn’t think he should even be in Bruges, and wants to go right back to Dublin. But as the movie goes on, we see that he becomes more and more consumed by his guilt, and soon enough, we are transported into Ray’s head, and can feel every ounce of pain that he does. But Martin McDonagh, the director, tries hard to keep this movie from getting depressing, and he succeeds in this task. The humour is witty,
sarcastic, and morbidly dark. And of course, absolutely hilarious.

McDonagh also does a great job of showing us Bruges, which is, in fact, an absolutely breathtaking city. Its beautiful monuments and Venice-like canals are magnificent in the film, although Ray would have to disagree. While I watched the movie and saw Bruges’s sights, I suddenly found myself wanting to go to Bruges. Really badly. The
filming location was actually in a very small part of Bruges, and despite certain place being revisited (i.e. the tower), the city never gets old. The fact is, the cinematography in “In Bruges” is perfect, and lends itself to the film very well, enhancing it.

Farrell has, in the past, been criticised for his choice of roles, but certainly not this time. He pulls off an overconfident, but also vulnerable hitman whose conscience is at a loss. Throughout the movie, we see Ray wrestle with his inner demons, and it is a
bloody battle. The guilt of having inadvertently killed that boy consumes him, and takes over his life, and he can think of nothing else. He manages to deliver those comic lines, and we see him smile, but in his eyes we see a man possessed, a man haunted by a sole moment. In his eyes, we see excruciating pain; I have to give credit to Farrell for putting all of these elements together in this emotionally moving role.

Nothing should be taken away from Gleeson either, who plays his part pitch-perfectly. At first, we can see that Ken is not much affected by Ray’s emotions, but as the film goes on, we see that he too, is brought into Ray’s whirlwind of emotions. Living in the same hotel room as Ray starts take its toll on Ken, until Harry –  the boss – calls. I won’t give anything away, but what Harry tells Ken is nothing short of life-changing, and creates a great deal of inner turmoil in him.

For most of the movie, Harry is only heard through the phone, but about two thirds way through, he arrives in Bruges in the form of Ralph Fiennes. And boy, can that man act. He portrays a man that is, in a way, pure evil personified, but also has his rules and principles. In fact, during a conversation between him and Ken, we even see a little bit of human in Harry, as the two share a small laugh, forgetting their situation for that moment.

Besides the acting and character development, the writing too is splendid. The writers created a brilliant combination of dark humour and thought-provoking dialogue, which will leave the best of us in a conflict of emotion. On more than one occasion, we see Ray pondering over things like the afterlife and guilt. Each time this has
happened, I found myself thinking about my own life, and what it would be like to be in Ray’s position. My mind started trying to draw comparisons between Ray’s life and my own, and I began to go into deep thought about the philosophy of it all. Then, all of a sudden, I would be interrupted by a fantastically witty line from Farrell or Gleeson or Fiennes, and I would snap myself out of the daze.

Such is the effect that this film has. It really makes the audience think. Not about what’s going on in the movie (that is relatively straightforward), but about their own lives, and about major themes like guilt, or Heaven and Hell. This film speaks volumes about the human condition, and how people really react towards traumatic events. It tells us of the moral complexities in the human brain, and how any person can mentally disintegrate if they are pushed hard enough. And amidst all of this is some of the darkest humour you will hear, and it all comes together to create a fine spectacle. “In Bruges” is an intelligent and thought-provoking comedy/drama, and is a must-see.

FINAL SCORE:

Hope Can Set You Free: ‘The Shawshank Redemption’

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The Shawshank Redemption

“The Shawshank Redemption” Review

Cast

Tim Robbins………………….Andy Dufresne
Morgan Freeman……………Ellis Boyd ‘Red’ Redding

Credits

Director………………………Frank Darabont
Producers……………………Liz Glotzer, David V. Lester
Writers……………………….Stephen King (short story), Frank Darabont (screenplay)

When this movie was released in 1994, it received only good reviews. And yet, it failed to perform at box office, losing out to more well-known films like ‘Forrest Gump’ and ‘The Lion King.’ But don’t let that fool you, as “The Shawshank Redemption” picked up viewership in the following years, and in a little while, had become a phenomenon. And with good reason too, as it now stands atop the IMDb ‘Top 250’ movies of all-time (it’s kept this position for a few years too), and is one of the best movies I have ever seen.

‘Shawshank’ is based upon a short story called “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” by Stephen King, and is directed by Frank Darabont. Tim Robbins plays a fiercely determined Andy Dufresne in the film; the opening scene shows him being falsely accused of murdering his wife and her lover. The highly circumstantial evidence gets him landed in Shawshank Prison on a life sentence, which is where we meet Ellis ‘Red’ Redding, portrayed brilliantly by Morgan Freeman. The rest of the film is told through Red’s perspective, who himself is serving life in prison.

Red has already served twenty years when Andy arrives, and as is customary for them, the inmates make bets on who will be the first to cry in their first night in prison. Red bets on Dufresne, saying that he looks like “a gentle breeze could knock him over”. He loses the bet, and as the film goes on, Red and his friends begin to realize just what Andy is made of. They see that he is a quietly confident man, but also incredibly determined, not allowing anything to break him, be it sexual assault or solitary confinement, or anything else. After all, you would have to be something different to be able to withstand years of prison-time despite being innocent.

‘Shawshank’ is slow and deliberate, as Darabont uses every second of the 142-minute runtime to establish the atmosphere. This film is not a prison drama per se, as it is not about violence or riots. Instead, it is about two men who bond over a number of years, and create a beautiful friendship over the span of almost two decades. Hope is probably the most significant theme in the film, and it is something Andy never loses, regardless of what is thrown at him. The same cannot be said for Red, who sees himself as being institutionalized, and cannot imagine himself on the outside. He says “hope is a dangerous thing,” and without Andy, it is more than likely that Red would have indeed, given up all hope.

Because Andy is a quiet man and keeps his thoughts to himself, the bond between him and Red is of vital importance. It is through Red’s narration that we know what goes on inside Andy’s head, and see how he’s changed. Red also speaks for the other inmates, and this tells us just how much Robbins’ character has influenced the people around him. However, there are some key moments too which reveal a lot about him, like when he uses his wit to get his friends beer on a hot afternoon, or when he takes a new inmate under his wing.

Though Robbins and Freeman are the stars of this movie, they are extremely well-supported by the secondary cast members. The other inmates are portrayed exceptionally well by the respective actors, and this is one reason why ‘Shawshank’ is so good. It is not solely the performances of the two leading actors that hold the movie up, but the performances of the supporting cast as well.

Andy was a banker on the outside, and because of this, he soon takes over the tax work of all the guards at Shawshank, and is soon misappropriating funds for the Warden Norton, who is played very well by Bob Gunton. This gives Andy a little leverage over the Warden, and gives him more of a free license. However, when he oversteps the line, he is thrown in solitary confinement for over a month, which one of the other inmates says is the “longest damned stretch I’ve ever heard of.” But something in those 5 weeks in that tiny, lightless cell flips a switch in Andy, and Red recognizes this. “Every man has a breaking point” he says, while pondering whether Andy would go the way of the prison librarian, who hung himself.

“The Shawshank Redemption” is not a sad movie, though. Darabont doesn’t focus too much on the fact that Andy was wrongly accused or on the bruises he has after he is assaulted, or on any of the other bad things he has had happen to him. No, Darabont continues with the story, and this gives us an insight into Dufresne’s character, and tells us the he doesn’t let anything in the past get to him, he simply moves on.

The score, done by Thomas Newman, accompanies the film perfectly; it doesn’t take over, but simply adds to the film’s effect, especially towards the end of the movie. The prison is painted in mostly grey, which gives it a very drab feeling. However, this works in Darabont’s favour, as this enhances the effect of the important moments in the film. All of this adds to create – in my opinion – one of the most enjoyable, interesting, and satisfying movies ever.

‘Shawshank’ is not a run-of-the-mill drama. It is profoundly different from most things in Hollywood, and that in and of itself is fantastic. The story is one of friendship, hope, and determination, all of them combined beautifully. Most of the movie’s two-and-a-half hours is not fast-paced (although it has its moments), and this mirrors the slow and winding passage of time in prison. Darabont has created something truly brilliant, something different, something refreshing. And it never gets old. Whenever I see a re-run of this movie playing on TV, I sit down and watch, and no matter what scene or moment it is, the film is utterly absorbing. No person in the world should go through life not having seen “The Shawshank Redemption.”

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