The Green Mile (1999): How One Man Can Change Things

The Green Mile

“The Green Mile” was a very long, but great film. It is another film based off a book that I now plan on reading, given that the books tend to give us more details of characters and events. For this reason, the length was in favor of “The Green Mile” even if I found it a bit much near the end. I’ll get into the why in the assessment.

“The Green Mile” is adapted from the book by the same name written by Stephen King and was directed by Frank Darabont, who was also one of the producers and wrote the screenplay. The other producer was David Valdes.

The story is the tale of Paul Edgecomb (Dabbs Grear as older recounting events, Tom Hanks as the man living the events) who recounts why he was affected so powerfully by an old musical on the television. It is here we learn that he was a prison officer in charge of death row inmates and the supernatural events with a man named John Coffey who is accused of the rape and murder of two girls. The time period is that of the great depression. From here the truth of what happened is revealed as well as the nature of John Coffey and later Paul Edgecomb as the story progresses.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Setting – The setting in the senior home where he walks up to an old abandoned shack in the hills and in the past when he’s in the prison, as well as setting it during the Great Depression add a sense of feeling trapped that pervades the film and characters. Which works given the themes and stories that get explored.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is glorious. From old Paul talking while it is raining, to all the times the prison goes dark and the mist surrounding the hills. So many scenes are beautiful shots worthy of being framed or pictures. David Tattersall was clearly the right guy.

The Characters – There really aren’t any 2-Dimensional characters, unless said character are psychopaths. For this reason it was great spending so much time with them all since everyone gave great performances.

Brutus Howell – David Morse plays the guard who is the teddy bear of the group. He enjoys joking with the inmates on death row and it takes Paul to pull him out of it sometimes. His heart is in the right place and when John does the miracle and heals Paul, as well as the Resurrection of the mouse Mr. Jingles. He was my favorite of the minor characters without a doubt, since he was one of the few who actually held Percy Wetmore (who had the political connections) for his wrongdoings in the prison.

Jan Edgecomb – Is Paul’s wife and is the other who believes the miracles of John Coffey when Paul tells her of them. She also makes John some cornbread that he shares with Mr. Jingles and Mr. Jingles guardian who is also a prisoner, Eduard “Del” Delacroix. Her role is smaller but Bonnie Hunt does a great job.

Eduard “Del” Delacroix – Michael Jeter plays my other favorite minor character, as he is a slightly mad inmate who adopts Mr. Jingles, who is a highly intelligent mouse. He is one of the kinder inmates and genuinely feels guilt at the end for the crimes we do not hear about. For this reason he’s a character with a lot of depth as we see him make friends with the guards and Mr. Jingles and his torture (in the beginning and when he is put on the electric chair) by Percy. His death is brutal as the sponge is not put on his head so he is cooked before he dies. His death would be the saddest if not for what comes later.

Dean Stanton – Barry Pepper was perfect for this role and it was good to see him in a film that wasn’t “Battlefield Earth.” He is one of the youngest of the guards and we see him learning the ropes and also building a relationship with John and Del too. He weeps at John’s death and we see how much John has changed him through his kindness and miracles.

Warden Moores – The Warden is played by James Cromwell, and he’s Cromwell the guy is great in everything he’s in. In this he plays a guy who gives in to Percy because he’s afraid of the State coming down on his Prison. He’s also fearful because his wife is dying and has Brain Cancer. It takes him trusting Paul and John at the end for John to take away the the infection and heal her. You can tell that he was changed by it and probably has second thoughts about the crime Coffey is accused.

John Coffey – Michael Clarke Duncan won best supporting actor for a reason. His character is an immortal who has strong emotional intelligence but his intellect isn’t all that great and he sees things simple as far as wanting to take away another’s pain or destroy someone for causing pain. He is on death row for the murder and rape of two girls which was done by another character (Wild Bill) who he kills in the end. He goes to death after giving some of his power to Mr. Jingles and Paul by accident since he was doing so in both cases to help Paul understand why he was innocent and why Bill needed to die and because of the terror Mr. Jingles felt as Del was being killed. His character was complex and the closest to good in the film, which is why Paul feels guilt at not saving his life.

Paul Edgecomb – In the flashbacks Tom Hanks was perfect in this role. He plays a mentor figure to both the inmates and the guards and shows himself to be a good leader with a cool head time and time again, even when Percy and Bill pull crap that causes pain to others. He is the one who has a urinary infection for the first part but is healed by John which leads to him investigating and finding racism was a big part of why John was found guilty, even though his character showed he would not commit the crime. This haunts him later when John gives him immortality and we see the pain and loss of waiting to die and his immortality scene as punishment through the eyes of Dabbs Greer.

The Message – For me the message was at the core, that one person can change things. In that it was John Coffey through his miracles, which were really a reflection of his kindness. He made everyone around him better or safe. Which Paul did after when he left the prison to help at risk youth, so they wouldn’t end up in prison.  John’s actions shaped everyone around him and left a lasting impression on the immortal Paul who than carried it to the end of his days.

Okay: Wild Bill and Percy – These two characters were mostly selfish dicks and uninteresting ones because they had no motivation beyond wanting to cause pain. It was never about power, they were just bullies and that didn’t lend to the story beyond them being obstacles for Paul and later John to finally overcome. Each of them are monsters in their own ways as Percy picks on the week and tortures them and Wild Bill rapes and murders people. These characters got justice in the end though with Wild Bill killed by Percy and Percy in a mental institute.

Soundtrack – Didn’t really leave an impression the way the cinematography did. Wasn’t bad, just wasn’t memorable.

The Cons: The Length – In the end this was a con because it could have made events more concise. We get all the important information like we do in “Return of the King” but it can’t help but feel like it’s dragging as we get quite a few endings back to back. This is one of the few things that hurts the film.

This is a film I’d highly recommend. It’s a favorite film though my favorite film adapted from a Stephen King novel would still be “The Shawshank Redemption.” This one goes into a lot of different themes and most the characters are quite rich in how they are acted and what the script gives them. If you have patience, it is worth sitting through, because the end payoff is worth it.

Final Score: 9 / 10. A solidly great film.

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