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The Shawshank Redemption (DVD, 2007) Reviews
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The Shawshank Redemption (DVD, 2007)

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Shawshank Redemption Conspiracy: The Most Overrated mediocre movie of all time!

Jul 30, 2009 (Updated Jul 31, 2009)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:It has a wonderful message and won't give you an incurable disease.

Cons:148 minutes you won't get back.

The Bottom Line: A cliche-ridden mediocre movie featuring some good acting and quotable lines that inexplicably is one of the most loved films of all time.


The title of the Stephen King novella The Shawshank Redemption is based on is called  Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption it is in his Different Seasons collection of 4  stories (which also included THE BODY which became Stand by Me directed by Rob Reiner and Apt Pupil which became a film Apt Pupil directed by Bryan Singer). 

Shawshank marked the directorial debut of Frank Darabont.  He had previously written Nightmare on Elm Street 3 (pretty good) and The Fly 2 (awful).  He’s since written and directed two other Stephen King based fims,  1999’s The Green Mile (lousy) and 2007’s The Mist (good)  He also directed 2001’s The Majestic with Jim Carrey.  I’d rather watch any of these films (with the exception of Fly 2) again than Shawshank.


I realize deriding this over-praised film is tantamount to blaspheming in a monastery, I ask for your patient indulgence as I explain my unpopular position. 

Andy Deugresne (Tim Robbins) a shy introverted accountant  is sentenced to life for the murder of his wife which we know he did not commit.  He is sent to Shawshank a maximum –security prison  worse than Alcatraz and Devil’s Island.  It’s 1946, and Andy experiences  a sadistic warden and bullying guards.  Most of the prisoners however are basically a great bunch of guys except for a few bad apples.   Red  (Morgan Freeman) is the prison philosopher who fixes things.  When he was young he killed someone but he’s a redeemed wonderful guy.     Red and Andy become good friends watching out for each other and making sure they keep their human spirits strong and optimistic.

Why is a black man called Red, Andy asks at what point.   Morgan Freeman as Red says:    “I guess because I’m Irish.”  adding a bit of humor to contrast the prison horrors and sentimental philosophy we'll be subjected to for nearly 148 minutes.   In the written story, ‘Red’  is described as a red haired irish guy. 

The plot sees Andy (Tim Robbins) getting on the good side of Norton (Bob Gunton) the fanatical religious whacko of a warden, and Hadly (Clancy Brown) the sadistic bullying Captain of the Guards by giving them financial advice and doing their taxes. Both of these characters are one-dimensional cartoon characters.  We see nothing redeeming about them.    Anyway, doing the taxes for the warden and head guard allows  Andy  to expand the library and he gets to hang contraband (pictures of Rita Hayworth and later Marilyn Monroe and Raquel Welch) in his cell and even get some Beer into the prison to share with the prisoners.  We meet Brooks Hatlen (James Whitmore) the old con who’s been in prison so long he would never be able to adjust to the outside world if he ever got out  and later on we meet Tommy Williams (Gil Bellows) who is the young con man and thief who needs to get out of the prison or he’ll go mad.   (Trivia: Originally Brad Pitt was supposed to play Tommy).

The film has a great look to it, courtesy of frequent Cohen Brother collaborator, cinematographer Roger Deakins.

At 95 to 100 minutes, I imagine a fairly enjoyable inoffensive fantasy film could have made, but instead the thing is blown up to 148 minutes and pretends that all of recycled prison movie situations and clichés have never been done before and it’s message about the strength of the human spirit is important and uplifting.

At its core it's a fantasy film with Andy’s character meant to show that one can maintain their dignity and integrity under the most difficult of situations i.e. getting molested by the violent prison gay gang.  Good will eventually triumph over evil, right over wrong etc. etc.   Logic and real life is thrown out.

One of the most absurd speeches in the film is one Morgan Freeman gives in front of the parole board. 

There's not a day goes by I don't feel regret. Not because I'm in here, or because you think I should. I look back on the way I was then: a young, stupid kid who committed that terrible crime. I want to talk to him. I want to try and talk some sense to him, tell him the way things are. But I can't. That kid's long gone and this old man is all that's left. I got to live with that. Rehabilitated? It's just a bu-lls-hi-t word. So you go on and stamp your form, sonny, and stop wasting my time. Because to tell you the truth, I don't give a s-h-i-t.


And of course he gets out.   Devotees of the movie aren’t bothered by inconsistencies like this… they love the characters, they love the idea of redemption, the sentimentality and the messages about the human spirit.

It’s full of narration like this:

I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don't want to know. Some things are best left unsaid. I'd like to think they were singing about something so beautiful, it can't be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free.


Shawshank felt like a long phony movie the first time I saw it.  It looked good, had some good acting in it, had a wonderful message, but was a phony, been there, seen that kind of film.  There were few moments that felt authentic.  I was being manipulated and not with grace and subtlety but with an iron hammer of sentimental hog-wash.  Darabont doesn't trust the audience to be discerning enough to figure out anything that isn't completely spelled out for them.  So we have evil caricatures as the Warden and Guard Captain and we have soulful nice guys Andy and Red fighting to keep their dignity and being worthy of respect and admiration because they have more integrity than anyone else we see in the movie, certainly the evil Warden and Captain.

But…maybe I missed something, maybe I needed to watch the film again. So many people consider it one of the greatest films ever made… perhaps..I needed to re-assess. 

After all there's probably 250 reviews where review after review insists this is a great film and there are absolutely no flaws in the film.   Its the top rated film on IMDB with about a half million people voting mostlly 9.5 to 10 regarding the film.

Surely not everyone has decided to embrace and love what I found to be a mediocre movie. 

I watched it again.

 It’s still a long, ridiculous cliché’-ridden, overly sentimental fantasy film  and I’m still not drinking the kool-aid that would make me proclaim it’s one of the greatest films ever made. 

 I’m sure that has something to do with the fact that I’ve seen prison movies from the early 1930s, the 1950s, up to the present which superb films like A Man Escapes and In the Name of the Father, that are not as well known and do not get the kind of adulation and worship that this movie does.   Both of those movies I could understand people embracing and putting up on a pedestal.  Shawshank snuck onto the pedestal because the right people at the right time embraced the film and like some virus the feeling spread to the masses.  Several critics embraced it (D-am-n you EBERT) and award nominations followed. 

I still contend after you’ve seen Spencer Tracy, Bogart, Cagney, Paul Muni and dozens of others go through every prison cliché imaginable, you could not possibly be impressed with the casting of Tim Robbins as Andy. He doesn’t have the kind of energy the role calls for, but he’s far too professional an actor to sabotage the project by over-acting or stealing scenes.  It might make things more interesting if he did, but he doesn’t.  

  Now of course the film has been officially canonized into something it is not and for anyone to make disparaging remarks or suggest the film is barely watchable is tantamount to insulting one’s religion or mother.   So I apologize for offending  anyone by insisting the film is barely mediocre, made watchable by its cinematographer and Morgan Freeman’s performance that is akin to a veteran jazz player being in the zone and hitting all of the notes just right—even though the song remains the same.

I suppose if you pretend you have never seen a prison movie, the clichés and over-wraught dramatics of the bible thumping sadistic warden and monstrously brutish head guard coupled with the chicken soup for the soul homilies and the ultimately upbeat optimistic message might seem original and cling to you in a pleasant sort of way like a Bill Cosby sweater.   The film works hard to be inspirational and if you are able to ignore how utterly unrealistic and absurd it is.. perhaps you too will worship this film as if it is something bequeathed to audiences from a higher power.   But folks.. this movie is NOT the Bible.  It might be easier to watch for 148 minutes than reading the Bible, but a lot of you have got to get a life and see more movies, read more books and stop going to the Star Trek Conventions….(sorry…too much).

Me?  Before I sit through Shawshank again I’ll find my redemption in   In the Name of the Father, and watch Cool Hand Luke, Papillion, Great Escape, Riot in Cellblock 11White HeatUp the River, Escape from Alcatraz, Birdman of Alcatraz and even episodes of HBO’s OZ.

Shawshank Redemption is not only the most over-rated movie of the last 50 years, it’s probably worse than most of the other movies I consider grossly over-rated like  Chariots of Fire, English Patient, Titanic, Forest Gump, Beauty and the Beast (Disney), Happiness, Poison, The Omen, Hard Boiled, The Ice Storm, Chasing Amy, Kids,  Braveheart, Natural Born Killers, A River Runs Through It, Reds, A Few Good Men, JFK, Bugsy, Pretty Woman, The Accidental Tourist, Under Fire, Passion of the Christ, Magnolia, 3 Women  Out of Africa, Requiem for a Dream, Blair Witch Project, Nell,  Sophie’s Choice, Memento and Blade Runner.   (Chariots, Forest, Beauty , Hard Boiled and Blade Runner I can understand to some extent ..they are above average movies and Titanic has wow factor special effectsand Kate Winslet).


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