You know that bloke, Frank Darabont? Yeah, the one who created The Walking Dead and directed The Shawshank Redemption. Turns out he also directed this rather well-known film called The Green Mile, based on the Stephen King novel of the same name. At three hours, this film is quite overbearing, but does contain some bang for its buck.
The film is set not in Maine – a Stephen King cliché – but in Depression-era Louisiana, where Tom Hanks plays a death row prison warden named Paul. At the beginning of the film, we see a rather large black man by the name of John Coffey – ‘Like the drink, only not spelled the same.‘ – played by Michael Clarke Duncan, who has been accused of murdering two small girls. Sadly the actor passed away in September last year. For the first 50 minutes, we follow Paul through his daily life, watching as he puts a man to the electric chair and noticing that he has a nasty urinary infection, a facet of this film that will make any male member of the audience reach for their groin.
Suddenly, MAGIC! Magic out of nowhere. Oddly enough, I felt Paperman suffered from having the same bizarre introduction of the surreal into it, but when I remembered that this was a Stephen King story, I decided to just accept it and move on. It turns out Coffey has the ability to suck disease and even death out of humans and animals, and this is what he was doing with two dead girls in his hands.
Meanwhile, one of the other wardens, Percy (Doug Hutchison), is being a complete prat. The other wardens and inmates have all come to love a cute little mouse that lives in the prison, referred to as Mr. Jingles. In a cruel gesture, Percy stomps on said mouse, causing his ‘owner’, inmate Del (Michael Jeter), much grief. However, when Coffey restores life to the little bugger, Percy is confused and angered and resents the rest of the team for playing a trick on him.
We then find out that Percy is a sadistic creep, in one of the most horrifying deaths I’ve ever seen on screen. It’s Del’s turn to go to the chair, and Percy has been given the ‘honour’ of carrying out his execution. However, he purposefully neglects to wet the sponge that goes on the victim’s head, meaning that the passing of electricity through his body is a lot more painful and violent than it would be normally. As an onlooker, we watch for several gruesome minutes as Del reacts violently to the electricity and even catches fire. The stink and the pyrotechnics drive out the audience, and I personally found this scene rather difficult to watch, so well was it made! I really did feel sympathy for the dying man in that chair. Fortunately, Percy is made to pay for what he’s done, as he’s locked in the antagonistic padded room with a straitjacket on.
Meanwhile Coffey is taken out of his cell one evening, to cure the prison warden’s wife (Patricia Clarkson) of a brain tumour. I couldn’t put a name to the face at first, but then I realised that the warden is indeed played by James Cromwell, better known for saying ‘That’ll do pig, that’ll do.‘ in Babe. Ah, James Cromwell, fantastic.
Despite his good deeds, and the revelation (via magic) that he did not in fact kill the girls, Coffey still requests that he be put to death, as he is tired of the pain and suffering in this world. There’s a fiercely emotional scene where Paul has to give the order to send electricity through his body, and provokes thoughts about capital punishment, and whether it is correct to take a man’s life for justice.
However, the film ends on a weird note as we skip ahead to an older Paul, telling his story to another woman in an old folk’s home. It appears that Coffey passed on some of his magic to Paul, meaning that he is able to live to incredibly old age, and watch all of his friends and family die over time. It seems like an unnecessary way to end the story, as I felt Coffey’s death was rather poignant. I don’t particularly feel sorry that the narrator will have to live a long time. What were you thinking, Stephen King?
Despite the odd conclusion, I still think this was a worthwhile watch as I found the story very moving in places. The inclusion of magic did make it a little strange to try and take something away from the film, but the story was well above par. I can definitely see the Darabont touch in this film; the prison-based epicness of Shawshank was definitely repeated, but also the inclusion of actor Jeffrey DeMunn, who has worked with Darabont on many other occasions, made me sure this was a Darabont movie. If you have three hours, you could do much worse than The Green Mile.