As the reopening of movie theaters and hopeful releases of films like Tenet remain up in the air, we are continuing our reviews of classic movies that we all know and love. I gotta say, choosing this film was a no brainer when I scrolled past it as a new addition to the Hulu library. The Green Mile is arguably one of, if not the best film adaptation of a Stephen King novel. Ringing in just above three hours of watch time, this story is well worth the investment and contains and explores several themes, tropes, lore and intent that can be found extremely relevant today.
Though a paranormal story, The Green Mile explores humanity at the deepest level. The constant quarrel between right and wrong in life is portrayed through the experience of several characters in varying walks of life. A poignant look at the unjust/unfair treatment and imprisonment of black lives serves as the back drop to the wide ranging plot. We also get a look at the polar opposite; the privilege and nepotism found and taken advantage of by white prison employees. I would love to take a deep dive into these discussions, but I think that would make this more of ‘Feature’ and not a ‘Review’. Just know this film has a lot to say, and it does not disappoint in doing so. Though some themes are subtle compared to what exactly goes down, they could never be more important today.
Told through the lens of looking back in time. We see the supernatural story unfold through flashbacks of the main character from his nursing home. Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) is the man tasked with being in charge of death row in a depression era Louisiana prison. Dubbed the “Green Mile” because of the green floors.
Paul is a good, married man, troubled by the darkness that comes with the reality of his job. He’s not the type of guy you’d expect to be running such a terrible corridor of the prison. Yet he runs a tight ship where his subordinates respect and follow his rule… for the most part. There’s one abhorrent employee named Percy (Doug Hutchinson). A real piece of s***, and I’m putting that nicely. He’s got the job because of familial ties to the Governor, and he’s there for all the wrong reasons. He want’s chaos, he wants to treat these prisoners as inhumanely as possible. Edgecomb does his best to keep him in check, but even the smooth talking’s of Tom Hanks cannot keep you from wanting to sucker punch this chump in the face.
One day a prisoner arrives, the massive John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan) (“like the drink, only not spelled the same”) whose origins are undetermined, other than the quick assumption that he was responsible for the molestation and murder of two young girls. This quick assumption, due to the time in which this story takes place, obviously falls on the shoulders of his skin color. However, from the get, after meeting his character, the viewer knows he is not what he is being framed as. Coffey is afraid of the dark, cries in his sleep, and upholds common decency in his interactions, especially with Edgecomb. This is the kind of stuff that a guilty and psychopathic man would be too ashamed to display. And let me just say, that’s hard to come by on the Green Mile.
Things aren’t really going great for Edgecomb during these times. Battling the “worst urinary infection” of his life while also battling the dysfunction caused by Percy and some other inmates. The story tracks the death row guards as they prepare themselves and the fragile minds of the expecting inmates for the electric chair. Where Percy just “wants to see one cook up close”, Edgecomb strives to maintain a sense of humanity and respect. It’s hard though considering some of the inmates that he is tasked to deal with. Sam Rockwell absolutely crushes in a non savory role as a fellow death row inmate. His character grows in importance as his hijinks do.
Now, I know I said this is a paranormal story, and at this point I haven’t mentioned one spirit, ghost, spell or anything. But with the scene set, it’s time for the supernatural to take hold. Much like the movie, the unbelievable happens after some time getting to know the characters and the power dynamics.
The overarching shadow of the seemingly simple minded John Coffey looms over the ward. He exudes goodness in the face of darkness. There are several moments that suggest that Coffey can feel the pain of others. It isn’t until Coffey, without consent, gets his hands on Edgecomb’s privates and somehow takes on the infection into his own body. He’s then able to dispel it away for good. It’s supernatural, not possible and honestly kind of hard to explain in writing. Using Coffey’s words here, “I just took it back is all”. There are several other instances of this power being displayed that I will not spoil.
It’s at this time that Edgecomb can start to see past what is being told to him about who Coffey really is. A man that truly cares for the well being of others could not possibly be responsible for the heinous crimes that he is convicted of. The drama in this movie plays out from the perceived and implied racism and lack of enlightenment of the time, with the center of it all being the relationship that is formed between a prison guard and his prisoner. Edgecomb sees the power in Coffey’s abilities and they willingly, together, make the most of it. But reality soon sets in… goodness is transferred, evil and sickness are dispelled but the weight of the situation cannot trump the ultimate endnote, the electric chair.
Verdict 4.5 out of 5
This movie is truly awesome. What’s so powerful to me is how both of the stories he chose to bring to the screen deal with prison life and at the crux of it all is an interracial friendship. These friendships go on to display the wrongness of the time, while also showing where humanity is trying to go. Even though sometimes we fall short.
Held up with incredible acting. There isn’t one bad performance in this movie. Hanks kills it, Michael Clark Duncan kills it, Sam Rockwell kills it and even the actor who plays Percy — kills it. It’s a strong story, that I wish I could peel back the onion more on, but take my word for it… it’s well worth the watch and has all the accolades to prove it.