The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

The Shawshank Redemption (1994), directed by Frank Darabont, was adapted from ‘Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption’ – a short story written by Stephen King. It is the tale of two men, Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), a successful young banker and Ellis Boyd ‘Red’ Redding (Morgan Freeman) a man given life for a serious crime comitted in his youth. The men first become acquainted in Shawshank prison when Andy is sentenced to serve two life sentences back to back having been found guilty of the murder of his wife and her lover. The film is essentially about the triumph of hope in a prison where hope, according to Red “can drive a man insane”.

Tim Robbins is convincing as the slightly arrogant and determined Dufresne. Unlike most of the prison inmates who have become “institutionalised” – totally reliant on the prison system, Dufrsne retains a rebellious streak that remains intact and defiant even after repeated rape by inmates and punnishments doled out by barbarous prison guards. The development of Dufresne’s character from the cold, immovable “tall drink of water with the silver spoon in his mouth” to the man utterly committed to providing education for inmates is touching. Robbins is able to convey the humbling and humiliating effects of long-term incarceration as well as the defiance of a man who will not be beaten by the system.

Freeman gives a stellar-performance as ‘Red’ the “guy who can get you anything”. He is mesmirising on screen as he brings both depth and sincerity to his role. The most poignant moment in the film is when he has his third and final parole review. It is clear that after forty years in prison he has completely lost interest in gaining his freedom “you go ahead and stamp your form sonny because quite frankly I don’t give a shit”. His short monologue underlines the absurdity of the justice system: the notion that a prisoner can be rehabilitated after a lifelong sentence. The interaction between Dufresne and Red is also very moving. Freeman as Red is able to display a deep affection for Dufresne without seeming at all slushy or sentimental.

Darabont is a craftsman of classic cinema: he weaves the story with an assurance that leads to a perfectly rounded conclusion. The villains get their come-uppance and Red and Dufresne live happily ever after.

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