The Shawshank Redemption

“The Shawshank Redemption” Review


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


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.”