The Green Mile
The 1999 fantasy/drama film “The Green Mile” is one of the most memorable and influential films of all time. The film is an adaptation of the Stephen King novel of the same name and is directed by Frank Darabont. The main themes of the film are racism, injustice, punishment, and sacrifice. Through narrative, the audience is constantly reminded that wrongdoers need to be punished. The story, which is mostly told in flashbacks, follows Paul Edgecombe, played by Tom Hanks, and his life as a corrections officer on death row in Louisiana during the Great Depression. Paul and his group of officers’ lives are forever changed when John Coffey, portrayed by Michael Clarke Duncan, is brought to the Green Mile (so-called because this death row has a green floor).
The main protagonist of the story (Paul) is a very kind and a cautious man. His officers and he try to treat inmates on death row with as much respect as possible, knowing that they will be punished—executed. Paul develops a relationship with the new inmate (John), who has been wrongly accused of a crime he didn’t commit. This seemingly gentle giant can neither read nor write, appears to be simpleminded, causes no trouble, and exudes goodness. As said, the story is told in flashbacks and the pacing is rather slow, so the audience’s knowledge regarding Coffey’s alleged crime is greatly restricted. This helps build suspense and get the public more engaged in the story. The film is three hours long. By taking extra time, Darabont has shown a story that slowly develops, unfolds, and has all the space needed. If the film were any shorter, it would have felt chaotic and unorganized and would have lacked necessary context.
The main antagonist of the story, Percy Wetmore (played by Doug Hutchison), is the nephew of Louisiana’s governor and one of the officers on death row. Percy is very self-important and thinks himself superior to his colleagues. He is always abusive and has no redeeming qualities, which indicates how insecure he actually is.
A common cinematography technique utilized throughout the film is extreme close-ups, most often of the characters’ faces but also seen focusing on the characters’ hands. With these close-ups, the audience is able to see every little nuance of the emotionally charged performances, but they also give an extremely claustrophobic feeling to the scenes, making the characters seem locked in place. This really puts an emphasis on the prison setting. Some scenes are shot through prison bars, which frequently reminds the crowd that these people are being punished.
Even though much of a performance is created in the filmmaking itself, in editing, and in the usage of emotional music, it is obvious how talented and personally invested the actors are in their characters. Paul, as portrayed by Tom Hanks, is able to win the audience over from the very start of the film. What makes Tom’s acting superior in this role is his use of eyes, which perfectly depicts his calmness and care for others. Hank’s voice is deep and relaxed.
Michael Clarke Duncan gives an outstanding performance as John Coffey. His heartfelt portrayal of John’s emotions, troubles, and sacrifice makes it impossible for the viewer not to feel genuinely sorry for the protagonist and heartbroken after watching the film.
The film ends on an uncertain and cynical note as Paul speaks about what he owes the Green Mile: that his long life is payment for all the lives he took during his service. While the world is filled with injustice, the Green Mile always demands retribution.