It's the no-bull performances that hold back the flood of banalities. Robbins and Freeman connect with the bruised souls of Andy and Red to create something undeniably powerful and moving.
Central to the film's success is a riveting, unfussy performance from Robbins. Freeman has the showier role, allowing him a grace and dignity that come naturally.
The New York Times
There are times when The Shawshank Redemption comes dangerously close to sounding one of those "triumph of the spirit" notes. But most of it is eloquently restrained. [23 Sept 1994, p.C3]
[Darabont] makes you feel the maddening pace of prison time without letting his picture succumb to it.
At times poignant, joyful, and terrifying, Shawshank Redemption is an altogether brilliant movie and the debut of an equally brilliant director.
Whitmore's Brooks is a brilliantly-realized character, and the scenes with him attempting to cope with life outside of Shawshank represents one of the film's most moving -- and effective -- sequences.
San Francisco Chronicle
Some of "The Shawshank Redemption'' comes across as outrageously improbable. Yet the film keeps pulling you back with its sense of striving humanity slowly turning the tables against evil.
Shouldering a laconic-good-guy, neo- Gary Cooper role, Robbins never quite makes emotional contact with the audience.
Speaking of jail, "Shawshank"-the-movie seems to last about half a life sentence. The story, chiefly about the 20-year friendship between Freeman and Robbins, becomes incarcerated in its own labyrinthine sentimentality.