Paul Edgecomb was somehow scarred,
For he was once a prison guard
Upon the “mile” painted green.
The death row cells it ran between
Held prisoners awaiting there
The just and fair electric chair.
Upon this mile, he and his guys
Secured those sensing their demise:
An Indian with life’s regret,
A Cajun with a rodent pet,
And big John Coffey, dense but tame,
Who barely knows to spell his name.
One guard named Percy savored grief
And mocked the prisoners’ belief.
At every chance, with clear disdain,
He’d add unneeded extra pain,
But he was swiftly terrified
When “Wild Bill” disturbed his pride.
Though Billy’s antics were insane,
John Coffey proved much less profane.
He somehow healed a pain-filled Paul,
As well as Mr. Jingles small.
Both man and mouse were touched by John,
And their afflictions soon were gone.
Since Paul was freed of his torment,
He thought John might be innocent.
Although John seemed harmless throughout,
Nobody else held any doubt:
He killed two girls, or so they said.
He would be punished for the dead.
Paul’s friend and boss Hal wished that life
Would spare his cancer-stricken wife.
Paul’s guards agreed to transport John
To heal the tumor ere the dawn.
He did so and employed her trial
To punish sinners on the mile.
Paul saw that John was doing time
For Wild Bill’s appalling crime,
And though he wished to let John go,
He could not free him from death row.
Once John was dead with many tears,
Paul lived well past one hundred years.
Both he and Mr. Jingles wait
Upon the mile that is their fate.

Steven King’s preoccupation with horror and violence unfortunately detracts (for me) from most of his work, but in certain cases his talent for drama supersedes these aspects to create a truly memorable story. Misery and The Shawshank Redemption are such stories, and so is The Green Mile. As with Shawshank, The Green Mile deals with a prison of the past, but though there are fleeting glimpses of work details nearby, it depicts the even more somber area known as death row, or the Last Mile.

The main guards are uniformly either admirable or despicable, but all are well-cast. Tom Hanks as Paul Edgecomb yields a Gump-ish Southern drawl and even gets a brief reunion with Lieutenant Dan…I mean, Gary Sinise. David Morse, Jeffrey DeMunn, and Barry Pepper play Paul’s sensitive and respectful good ol’ boys, while (Lost alert!) Doug Hutchison convincingly portrays sadistic Percy Wetmore, who disregards life and hates mice, people, and not getting his way. Michael Clarke Duncan’s Oscar-nominated performance as John Coffey is the stand-out, that of an innocent soul too simple to defend itself and too oppressed by the world’s ill will to desire a protraction of this life. While his origins are ambiguous, scenes like the “flicker show,” in which the projector forms a halo around his head, confirm his innate goodness and miraculous legacy. The other prisoners are likewise skilled actors: Dancing with Wolves’s Graham Greene as the remorseful Arlen Bitterbuck, Michael Jeter as mouse-trainer Eduard Delacroix, and a frightening Sam Rockwell as the perverse Wild Bill Wharton. (Rockwell’s comedic role in Galaxy Quest that same year attests to his versatility as an actor.) Bonnie Hunt, Patricia Clarkson, and James Cromwell round out the surprisingly large cast.

Despite all the characters, the film’s plot progresses methodically, developing most characters gradually, such as the scope of Coffey’s mysterious powers and the extent of Percy’s and Wild Bill’s malice. Each subplot, with both drama and comic relief, is woven beautifully into the overall narrative: Paul’s urinary tract infection, Percy’s desire to work at a mental hospital, Hal’s dying wife, Coffey’s wrongful conviction, etc. Most of the credit goes to King, but director Frank Darabont, who also adapted Shawshank, deftly handles the various story threads with visual mastery. Aside from readers of the book, the viewer doesn’t know what will happen next, making scenes like the comeuppance of the two villains both shocking and brilliant.

With all this praise, The Green Mile could have made it into my top 100 if not for its many detractions. Profanity is plentiful, as is violence. Del’s botched execution scene in particular is as disturbing as the C-section in Prometheus and continues for far too long just to sicken the audience, as well as the characters. The family of his victim wanted him to suffer, but I doubt they intended for such an atrocity. Pair these issues with a preoccupation with urinating and an overall depressing atmosphere, and the film falls short of something truly uplifting.

Yet, while critics can nitpick and delve into the themes and details for social and spiritual meaning, the film works on the surface as a proficient supernatural tragedy. The death of gifted innocence is always sad, and The Green Mile achieves a poignancy that most films only dream of.

Best line: (John Coffey, speaking for all decent people nowadays) “Mostly I’m tired of people being ugly to each other. I’m tired of all the pain I feel and hear in the world every day. There’s too much of it.”

Artistry: 10
Characters/Actors: 10
Entertainment: 7
Visual Effects: 9
Originality: 9
Watchability: 8
Other (language, violence): -2
TOTAL: 51 out of 60

Next: #104 – WALL-E

© 2014 S. G. Liput

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