It took a heck of a lot of self-control not to tweet updates of each emotion I exhibited throughout The Green Mile, as and when they formed somewhere near my stomach. Ranging from elation to despair, earnest optimism to... despair, I experienced most feelings available to the human consciousness. I’m so glad I watched this film alone, although periodically my mother would come in and cradle me until I calmed down.
It seems like I’m possibly the only person not to have seen this film before, but for the benefit of my fellow newbies: The Green Mile is an adaptation of Stephen King’s novel of the same name, written/produced/directed by Frank Darabont, who incidentally adapted another of King’s novels into The Shawshank Redemption, which is a little higher on the IMDb list. We follow the story of prison guard Paul Edgecombe (Tom Hanks), who is in charge of the death row block of the Cold Mountain Penitentiary, named the Green Mile for its flooring. He is joined by guards of varying temperament who together watch over inmates of varying levels of sanity.
This film is three hours long, but is by no means an epic as the plot meanders along at a snail’s pace. However, there’s no risk of boredom as this is no normal prison block once John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan) moves in. This gargantuan black man, sentenced to death for the rape and murder of two young girls, is not what he first appears. This film is not simply an insight into the generic prison experience, but rather it is a tale of mystery, miracles and intelligent mice.
Darabont makes use of everything between light-hearted comedy and intense horror to produce what I’m told is a faithful representation of King’s novel. Apparently the book is character based, i.e. not so heavy on plot, which translates into a rather slow-moving film. Many critics have panned The Green Mile for failing to get to the point, but they’re wrong; they’ve missed the point. The film captures the heart of the novel in staying true to its emphasis on character, and that’s not something you can build up in an hour and a half’s blast of action. Instead, we see these men in their daily highs and lows, ensuring that when the more action-heavy scenes come we care more about the outcome. Compassion is the point, and the lack of it becomes more abhorrent in contrast.
Another frequent criticism of The Green Mile is the simplicity of its characterisations, a point with which I have to agree. Tom Hanks is once again the likeable everyman, while the jerk-who-never-changes-and-ultimately-gets-his-comeuppance award goes to Percy Wetmore (Doug Hutchinson). Sure, the figures are still convincing (due to impressive performances and script), but on the whole there is the misunderstood/good guy camp on one side and the jerk/evil sadist camp on the other.
Yet, this doesn’t stop us from connecting with the story and it’s message, so we have to ask whether this particular failing is all that important. What the message is exactly is hard to pinpoint. Suffice it to say that compassion, mercy and understanding are praised, while pride and cruelty is reviled. But, The Green Mile is hardly idealistic in its portrayal of the world, and I’d recommend a box of strong tissues for each and every viewing of this hard-hitting movie. Persevere though; it’s worth it.