• Warning: Spoilers
    Andy Defresne is a young banker who goes to pieces when he learns his wife is being unfaithful. He gets drunk and wakes in his car, where he is picked up for the murder of his wife and her lover. Despite his pleas of innocence, Andy is sentenced to life in prison where he is immediately introduced to the horrors of live inside. Fellow lifer, Red, tells Andy's story of how he held hope and managed to use his banking skills to improve the conditions for himself and others.

    I saw this film in the cinema when it came out and, looking back, it is surprising how little fuss was made over it at the time - I was one of 15 or 20 people in the cinema when I saw it (on it's second week out!). However time has brought it to the top of many popular lists of films and it is mainly due to a story that is based around friendship and hope that engages and eventually uplifts.

    If you are going to adapt a Stephen King book, the lesson from this film and others appears to be to adapt a short one. Here the story is set up well with all the usual stuff that we expect from prison dramas, but with the key difference that these events are not the film - no the film is about Andy and Red's friendship. These two men are great characters and I was very easily drawn into their story. It is witty, dark and yet enjoyable all at the same time. It is impossible not to be affected by the ending and this simple uplifting sentiment is part of the reason it has been taken in by so many viewers as one of their favourites.

    Of course it is a little long at times and for my personal tastes it is a little too sentimental at times although this is to be expected with any Hollywood film. The slightly sentimental view of the prison also goes so far to ignore the idea that there would be any homosexual relationship that aren't rape and even ruling out any suggestion of racism - there is no tension or segregation in evidence here. I won't do spoilers but the ending was too clear for me where leaving us with more questions would have been more in holding with the idea of hope that the film had traded in prior to this. The characters work well due to some great performances. Robbins is great as Andy and he ages and grows well - whether or not he is believable in his calm approach to the punishment he takes is another matter, but I was caught up in the film enough to get past that. Freeman may not be the Irish guy from the book (hence the name Red) but he is excellent as the father figure - even if he appears to age very slowly in comparison to Andy. The chemistry between the two is the key and it really works.

    Of course having a support cast that includes a great number of fine support actors probably helped. People like Gunton, Sadler, Bellows and others may not always be great but here they fit the bill. Yes the characters tend to be very clichéd (the bird man, the rapists etc) but again that comes with the genre and I was able to get past these by focusing on the main relationship. The surprise performance for me was from Clancy Brown - not the most subtle of actors (Highlander is his other famous role) but he is very good here indeed, albeit with little actual character depth. As director Darabont has done very well, framing some great shots (that crane shot as the bus arrives for the first time) as well as a shot that has become almost iconic. He is helped by a score that fits the sweeping sense of hope that the film brings.

    Overall this is an imperfect film and it is flattered by it regular high appearance on the popular `best film' lists. However it is also a great little story that twists and turns as it is told, it has all the clichés of the genre but at it's heart it is based on friendship and a sense of hope that it is hard not to find uplifting. For all it's faults it is a popular and moving story that seems to do the trick for the majority of those that see it.