Neil Young’s Film Lounge – The Green Mile

The Green Mile


USA 1999, dir. Frank Darabont, stars Tom Hanks, Michael Clarke Duncan

Reactions to this film are veering wildly from one extreme to the other. On one hand, it’s been named by the Oscar academy as one of last year’s five best pictures, and many critics have praised it sky high. Many critics have, however, blasted it as an embarrassing turkey, a three-hour snore-a-thon that tries, ludicrously and unsuccessfully, to transplant the Jesus story to Louisiana’s death row of 1935.

My view would be closer to the first camp than the latter, although not by very much, and The Green Mile will definitely divide audiences as much as it has done critics. I found that the film was sufficiently well crafted to make the three hours pass without too much of a problem, and the story, if you can suspend some of your analytical faculties, does become pretty engrossing, with an effective final twist that feels just right for the material.

The basic plot is simple enough. Tom Hanks plays a death row prison guard with a severe urinary infection. He is soon cured, however, thanks to the healing hands of enormous convict Michael Clarke Duncan, who faces the electric chair for the murder of two small girls. Hanks becomes increasingly convinced of Clarke Duncan’s miraculous healing powers, and his innocence.

Frank Darabont, whose previous film was another King prison epic, The Shawshank Redemption, clearly views King in much the same way as Hanks views Clarke Duncan – he can do no wrong. As a result, the director relegates himself to a secondary role, simply trying to convey as much of King’s book as possible, with as little deviation from the text as possible. The result is a literary, rather than a cinematic experience, so it’s unfair to review The Green Mile in terms of it being a film. For three hours, you may be entertained, engrossed, amused, scared, whatever. As soon as the lights go up, the experience is over. Personally speaking, that’s not what cinema is, or should be, about.

by Neil Young