None of the usual otherworld creatures that populate the works of Stephen King are to be found in The Shawshank Redemption. But the real world of that Maine prison has some bizarre rules of its own and there's a whole new reality within those walls.
In the tradition of Cool Hand Luke and Birdman Of Alcatraz comes Tim Robbins who was a banker on the outside, but when he caught his wife cheating on him with a golf pro from their country club, he's convicted of putting eight bullets in them, four apiece and tried and sentenced to two consecutive life terms in Shawshank prison. Like Luke and Bob Stroud he works out his own rehabilitation and rebels against the prison system.
He may be a con, but Robbins still has all his knowledge of finances and pretty soon he's made himself quite invaluable to the warden and the rest of the staff at the prison. At the same time he and the cell block scrounger Morgan Freeman develop a close personal relationship. In the end they beat the system in a most unique way.
There have been some classic prison films made ever since The Big House at the dawn of the talkies. Two I've already mentioned. My favorite prison film is Robert Redford's Brubaker, but The Shawshank Redemption comes pretty close. As does The Green Mile which was also directed by Frank Darabont.
Darabont got an Oscar nomination as did the film itself and as did Morgan Freeman for Best Actor. The Shawshank Redemption was in for a flock more Oscar nominations in 1994. A couple other good performances are that of James Whitmore the institutionalized con who is there for 50 years and paroled and just can't make it on the outside. He will break your heart as will Gil Bellows who plays a fresh, but rather likable young con who runs afoul of the warden.
Speaking of which Bob Gunton as the warden will positively chill you with his corruption. You would have to go back all the way to the James Cagney classic, The Mayor Of Hell where Dudley Digges was the warden of boys reformatory to find a warden that is as sanctimonious and as corrupt as Gunton. This is a man who gives Bibles out to each inmate hoping that the reading of the Good Book will improve the moral fiber of the convicts. At the same time he's raking in money every which way he can and a rather special punishment is meted out to him by Robbins.
The Shawshank Redemption may not have monsters and other worldly creatures that normally characterize a Stephen King story. But the world of Shawshank prison is bizarre enough for any normal person if you see this wonderfully crafted and acted film.
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