“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.
“Let me tell you something my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.”
The Shawshank Redemption has held its place atop the IMDB Top 250 for as long as the IMDB top 250 has existed. And while this list can be fickle, to say the least, the enduring dominance of The Shawshank Redemption is impossible to ignore. Sure, it’s ridiculous that The Dark Knight is currently sitting at number four, but it deputed even higher a back in 2008. And I assume its slow slide will continue as its novelty wears off, and it will find its rightful place, deep and low. But The Shawshank Redemption’s place at number one is like my own attitude towards it. This is a movie that refuses to go away and insists in grabbing me every time I stumble across it.
Drunk and cradling a loaded gun, Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) contemplates going home to kill his wife and her lover. When they’re found dead, Andy is the obvious number one suspect, and despite his claims of innocence, his seemingly cold, remorseless attitude in court sees him convicted of the double murder and sentenced to double life sentences in the titular Shawshank prison. Once inside, Andy meets the movie’s narrator, Red (Morgan Freeman).
The long term inmate who knows all the angles and get you things, Red is the first to see below Andy’s icy surface, and the two are soon friends. As the days turn into years that turn into decades, Andy carves his own path in Shawshank. His pre-prison career as a bank manager means he has certain skills to help guards and the Warden massage their own finances. With them on side, little things like rape happy inmates are less of a problem for Andy.
When I was in high school, The Shawshank Redemption was a go to rainy day movie when lunch breaks were spent inside. Or when teachers just felt too lazy to teach a class. It also popped up a lot on Australian cable TV in the late 90s, when I was at my TV watching, uni avoiding peak. So I may have seen this movie literally over a dozen times. And while it would never come to mind if I was asked to name some of the movie greats of its era, every time I see it, I can’t turn it off.
It’s obvious and unapologetic in its intentions to grab the most surface level of your emotions. It doesn’t pull on your heart strings, it yanks them, and its triumph of human will over adversity story is immensely clichéd, obvious and predictable. But I’ll be buggered if all of that doesn’t work. This was a time when a Morgan Freeman voiceover was fresh, and comforting and wise sounding. Before it became a standard attempt to save the half dozen shit bombs he seemingly makes every year.
Tim Robbins had a steady career going by this point, but The Shawshank Redemption was his first leading role in a big budget, prestige looking movie. So that helped sell the mysterious, guarded, possibly dark nature of Andy Dufresne. The whole thing is screen writing 101, with each emotional beat happening like clockwork exactly where it should. But sometimes, playing by the rules is exactly what’s needed to get the desired audience reaction.
Best Picture (nominated, lost to Forrest Gump)
Best Actor (Freeman nominated, lost to Tom Hanks for Forrest Gump)
Best Adapted Screenplay (Darabont nominated, lost to Forrest Bump)
Best Cinematography (Roger Deakins nominated, lost to Legends of the Fall)