I'd Walk a Mile for Tom Hanks
Dec 24, 1999 (Updated Apr 4, 2000)
Review by David Abrams
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:Bathed in a honey glow, the movie has a great nostalgic look, recalling the great films of yesteryear
Cons:Hanks' character has a bladder infection; you might, too, if you don't "take care of business" before the opening credits
Jimmy Stewart once said, "I donít act. I react." Stewart, like Henry Fonda, built a career playing the Man Next Door, the kind of fella whoíd invite you to sit down and have a decent chat over a cup of coffee. In their movies, Fonda and Stewart were so good you couldnít see the seams between Actor and Character. They were reacting, not acting.
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Those screen legends are gone now and, sadly, so is the All-American decency they personified. In all of Hollywood, there is only one man living today who even comes close to that old-fashioned goodness, someone who just gives you a warm feeling whether youíre watching him "react" on the big screen or admiring his humility during an "Entertainment Tonight" interview. That man is, of course, Tom Hanks.
Hanks is an old-fashioned nice guy and the only one worthy of the Stewart-Fonda crown. Iím sure if Hanks heard me heap all this praise on him, heíd probably say, "Aw, shucks."
In a career that began at the low end of art with "Bosom Buddies" and "Bachelor Party," Hanks has improved with age. Most of it has to do with his progressive education at the hands of great directors, but some of it also reflects his excellent taste in movie projects. "Philadelphia," "Apollo 13," and last yearís "Saving Private Ryan" were all contemporary classics, enhanced by Hanksí Everyman performances.
Last night, watching "The Green Mile," I was struck by how well Hanks carried the mammoth movie on his shoulders. As prison guard Paul Edgecomb, he is truly the decent American whose rational voice is often the only thing holding a powderkeg situation together. On the screen, Hanks is subtle and powerful; not once during "The Green Mile" could I spot the seams in his acting. Perhaps the best compliment I could pay him is that I could easily see Stewart or Fonda in the role.
"The Green Mile" is, indeed, a movie worthy of those cinema legends. Itís moviemaking at its old-fashioned best.
Yes, itís long. (Ironically, Edgecombís last line of narration is "Oh God, the Green Mile is so long.") Clocking in at 180 minutes, youíd better take care of all bodily functions before settling into your seat. Otherwise, your bladder may feel like itís on a trip through Nebraska where itís miles between gas stations.
But what can be cut from the miles and miles of writer-director Frank Darabontís footage? Nothing. Unlike most other marathon movie epics (including some with Stewart and Fonda), I couldnít think of a single frame that could be snipped from "The Green Mile." My wife agreed, saying, "Everything fit together just perfectly. Itís like I was reading a book. Even though everything unfolded gradually, it never got boring. I was always waiting to see what would happen next."
(My wife, I might add, is the person who stood up in the middle of the theater after 150 long minutes of "The English Patient" and screamed, "Die already!")
Sheís right about the literary pace of the movie. While there have been other excellent film adaptations of Stephen Kingís works ("The Shining," "The Dead Zone," "The Shawshank Redemption" and "Misery" are all first-rate flicks), this is by far the most faithful. With one or two minor deletions (mostly in the nursing-home frame story), I canít think of anything Darabont cut from Kingís novel about life on death row back in 1935. It was a beautiful, inspiring book and now itís a beautiful, inspiring film.
Anchored by Hanks, the rest of the superb cast turns in compelling performances. I was especially impressed by David Morse in a career-reviving performance as fellow guard Brutal, the unrecognizable Bonnie Hunt as Edgecombís wife, Michael Jeter as the tragic prisoner Delacroix, and Michael Duncan as John Coffey, the big black mountain of a prisoner whose arrival on death row forms the crux of the story. Space doesnít permit me to justly laud every other actor in "The Green Mile." This is one of those rare movies where even the smallest bit player has a big impact.
Much of the credit must go to Darabont who, in this second King-prison outing ("Shawshank" was the first), creates such a believably detailed world inside the penitentiary that Iím certain the actors approached each day of filming like they were going to work at a prison back in 1935 (or, at the very least, filming a movie back in 1935).
Darabont uses another old-fashioned film technique to create the claustrophobia of prison: the close-up. Watch how often Hanksí face looms large on the screen. And then sit back and enjoy not his acting, but his reacting. Itís worth every step of the "Mile."
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