I really have no clue as to why it has taken me so long to see this highly acclaimed movie. Following in the wake of Frank Darabont’s industry defining Stephen King adaptation The Shawshank Redemption, the same director tackles another King story. Originally published in a series of small novellas, The Green Mile was a sort of experiment and follows the story of an elderly man in a care home who recants his time as a prison officer in charge of the inmates on death row; specifically his time in the company of convicted double murderer John Coffey. Tom Hanks plays prison warden Paul Edgecomb and is perfect casting in my opinion, as is the late Michael Clarke Duncan as the imposing but gentle-giant Coffey.
This well shot and atmospheric movie gathers together several solid performances and a powerful, magical tale that certainly left it’s mark on me. The fate of John Coffey, the mystery surrounding two dead girls and an unexplainable ‘gift’ kept me mesmerised. Hanks is as complex and believable as always and in the closing moments truly excellent (seriously, I cant watch Hanks cry … I just can’t). It’s one of the most emotional films I have seen in a long while and yes, brought a tear to my eye. It also gets fairly disturbing in places, mainly surround the cruel character of Percy (you may recall him from his stint as ‘toobs’ in The X-Files …). But don’t let that put you off as this is one of those stories that is tragic but also life-affirming and made with real passion for it’s source material. Essential viewing.
The Blu-ray is mostly impressive. The movie itself is in fairly good condition but for a slightly smudgy colour pallet (this may be intentional) and detail overall is good, with only occasional softness creeping in on distant and wide shots. Close-up detail is often excellent. Sound is in Dolby Digital 5.1 and is pretty decent if a little lacking in the surrounds. Yet the big plus here is the extras consisting of a feature-length documentary named ‘walking the green mile’ as well as a commentary by the director, several deleted scenes and a trailer. Not too shabby for a modern classic. Packaging could have been better though.
There was something about this movie upon it’s release and over the years that has always made me stay away from it. The bizarre appearance of Hollywood actor Johnny Depp as famed drug addict / journalist Hunter S. Thompson, the always cautionary ‘unfilmable novel’ cliché and then the combination of drugs and Terry Gilliam – one of the more out-there, albeit skilled surrealist directors around. It seemed a bad combination. Yet now with this challenge and as a long time admirer of the former Monty Python member, who still for me made the best time travel movie ever conceived (Twelve Monkeys) – this finally had to be worth a look, right?
Depp as mentioned plays Thompson, going under various names in a three day drug fuelled road trip to and through and back again from Las Vegas along with his attorney (Benicio Del Toro) to report on a motor cross race in the desert in 1971. With a back drop of the Vietnam war, president Nixon and the hippy counter culture … this had plenty going on, but finding much entertainment in it was a struggle. This was Gilliam on acid, and for a director who already is Tim Burton on acid – that’s saying something! Hallucinations, a wealth of oddball characters, drugs, gambling, more drugs and basically two hours watching two utterly risible people not quite kill themselves (or anyone else they come across). Depp’s performance is like a Tex Avery cartoon, over the top jittery, with a one tone drawl (not helped by the cigarette filter permanently hanging out of his mouth) and is loosely aided by an animalistic, borderline psychotic Del Toro. Cameos by the likes of Cameron Diaz, Christina Ricci and a nearly unrecognisable Toby Maguire prove fun … and a soundtrack covering (amongst others) classic hits from The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan turn out to be the biggest plus of this total head-f**k of an experience. By the end credits I actually felt like I’d been on some sort of trip … and not a particularly good one.
Gilliam’s direction is technically impressive and truly creates the feeling of a doped out, paranoid and trippy journey complete with unconventional camera angles and bizarre effects work (hotel guests turn into reptiles and eat each other, or have an orgy – I couldn’t be sure) … so hat’s off to him for that, but I watch movies either to be entertained or to learn something … and I didn’t get much of either out of this.
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