Monday, August 8, 2011

The Green Mile: Another perfect Stephen King adaptation from Darabont

The Green Mile (Drama, Fantasy)
Directed by Frank Darabont
Starring Tom Hanks, Michael Clarke Duncan, Jeffrey DeMunn and David Morse

Warner Bros. | 1999 | 188 min | Rated R | Released Dec 01, 2009

Video codec: VC-1
Video resolution: 1080p
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1

English: Dolby TrueHD 5.1
English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1
Turkish: Dolby Digital 2.0

English SDH, Cantonese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German SDH, Greek, Italian, Korean, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, Turkish

Single 50GB Blu-ray Disc

The Film 5/5

If you read my Top 20 Drama articles, you’ll know that I’m a big fan of Frank Darabont’s Stephen King adaptations. The Shawshank Redemption ranks second and The Green Mile is just behind in fourth.

Watching a Darabont movie is like entering another world. He takes his time with the story and the development of the characters. Don’t expect fast cuts and short scenes; each film is a work of art that is meant to be savored.

Before I talk about the film, I have to mention a funny story. Stephen King decided to write the book in a series of six installments. King was inspired by Charles Dickens, who also liked the serial novel format. I found the first installment in a supermarket and kept the receipt. A scan of it is shown opposite. See if you can spot the unusual item (five items from the top). It’s amazing what you can buy in supermarkets these days. I guess I was low on junk food that week? What a terrible diet I had back then.

The Green Mile is set in a Louisiana prison, but, unlike The Shawshank Redemption, the inmates can only interact by talking and never leave their cells to mingle. Each prisoner is condemned to death and is awaiting a meeting with Old Sparky, the electric chair.

The story is narrated by Paul Edgecomb (Dabbs Greer and Tom Hanks), the head warder, and the vast majority of the story is told through the use of flashback and is set in 1935. He explains how he met a huge black prisoner named John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan). Coffey is a simple man and seemingly gentle despite his size, but he was found guilty of murdering two little girls. His behavior doesn’t do anything to suggest that he was capable of such an act.

Coffey has a secret, but I can’t reveal it here without ruining the movie. His nature becomes apparent about an hour into the film and it changes everything.

The story revolves around Edgecomb’s role in running the prison and how he reacts when he finds out Coffey’s true nature. Prison life is fairly quiet, but Edgecomb has to deal with an annoying warder called Percy Wetmore. We are told that Wetmore has connections and so the other warders have to tolerate him or risk losing their jobs. Another thing that upsets Edgecomb’s routine is the addition of a new prisoner, 'Wild Bill' Wharton (Sam Rockwell), who likes to make as much trouble as possible.

One part of the story concerns the appearance of a mouse. The reaction of the individual warders reveals something about their own nature and it’s a brilliant plot device. Unfortunately, I can’t say anything more about the mouse without ruining the story.

The Green Mile isn’t what it seems. It begins like a hard-hitting drama, but things change as we discover more about the characters. In the end, the story is about trust and belief. It’s very powerful and some of the characters do extraordinary things. The warders, with the exception of Percy, are a close-knit group. They demonstrate the kind of trust that can only occur between close friends. The stakes are high and the story is compelling.

I’ll say no more about the plot other than that the conclusion is very satisfying.

Darabont draws strong performances from every member of the cast. Hanks is superb as usual, but the story wouldn’t work without Michael Clarke Duncan’s performance and his Oscar nomination was well deserved. I could mention at least 15 actors who played their role to perfection. Darabont was nominated for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay and the film deserved all of the recognition it received. The mouse should have won an Oscar.

The film has a couple of disturbing scenes, such as one of the executions, but is generally a series of character studies. You’ll be sucked into the story because of what the characters do, rather than for any special effects or shocking scenes. The story has a lot of heart and will stay with you long after the credits roll. At 189-minutes, many will be wary of watching the film. Don’t let that put you off. Good films never feel too long, and this is a very good film.

Video Quality 4/5
The VC-1 transfer looks very good for the most part. Detail in close-ups is exceptional and, apart from a few soft scenes, detail is generally strong throughout. Black levels are problematic on occasion. Darabont uses plenty of dark shots using blacks, grays and browns. Sometimes, shadows obscure some of the detail. I’m very happy with the upgrade, but it could have been slightly better. Owners of the DVD will be relieved that the Blu-ray comfortably contains the entire film, so you won’t have to flip the disc over as you did with the DVD.

Audio Quality 4/5
The English: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix is quiet and I found myself increasing the volume by 10 decibels over my normal level. Once that adjustment was made, everything sounded clear. It’s a dialogue-driven film, but the surrounds do play a part when required. Listen to the sound of the mouse running across the floor and you’ll hear the fine detail in the mix. One electrocution is particularly noisy and you’ll feel like it’s happening right in front of you. I couldn’t detect any imperfections in the track at all.

Special Features 5/5

The extras all appear in standard definition:

Commentary by Director Frank Darabont

Walking the Mile: The Making of The Green Mile (25:30)

Miracles and Mystery: Creating The Green Mile (1:42:54) – If the commentary and “Making Of” features weren’t enough, here’s an in-depth look at every aspect of making the film. It’s split into six parts if the running time seems daunting:

Stephen King: Storyteller
The Art of Adaptation
Acting on the Mile
Designing the Mile
The Magic of the Mile
The Tail of Mr. Jingles

Deleted Scenes (3:38) – Two scenes which didn’t make it into the film.

Michael Clarke Duncan's Screen Test (8:26)

Tom Hanks' Makeup Tests (5:30)


The Green Mile is a film about hope, trust, friendship and the power of belief. It’s a stunning achievement and the story never feels boring despite the long running time. I give it a spin every three months or so and am always glad to visit that world once again. Anyone who enjoys good acting, master storytelling and emotional drama would probably find a lot to like in this film.


  1. Really enjoyed reading this - one of the best reviews I've read in a while!

    I never, ever mention The Green Mile when asked about favorite films. It never even crosses my mind. Yet, my memory of watching it in a theater, when first released, is of a film that affected me so strongly, I could barely see the screen through the tears. Gasping tears! This happens to me...never! I am easily distracted and normally cry, if a film so moves me, only when watching it at home with absolutely no distraction. Not so with this film!

    The Green Mile, as you state, is worthy of note for it's story, wonderful performances and its impressive trigger for character development, the mouse!


  2. Hi Aurora,

    Thanks for the compliment.

    The Green Mile has ranked among my Top 5 ever since I saw it. Definitely moving and extremely well crafted. It's rare that a film clocks in at over three hours and leaves me wishing it were longer.

    I'm glad you appreciate it as much as you do.