The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
R / 142 min
Drama / Crime
Starring: Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton
Director: Frank Darabont
The prison walls can do a lot of things to people. The confines of such walls can drive some men into a dark pit of madness while others might look upon the walls with hope, hope that one day they can see the light again on the other side. Some men are put inside these walls because of their own doing, while some have no choice. Some prisoners have fear while others believe in hope and it’s their mindset that can keep them from seeking redemption. This is the idea behind Shawshank Redemption, Frank Darabont’s directorial debut.
Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), a well-to-do investment banker, is the last person you would expect to find behind the bars of prison. After a series of unfortunate coincidences, Andy is convicted of murdering his wife and the man she was seeing behind his back. He truly believed he was innocent, but the judge and jury saw otherwise. Carrying the burden of two back-to-back life sentences, he is sent to the Shawshank prison, where he will spend the rest of his life for something he didn’t do. The first couple of days are rough. They’re rough for everyone, but Andy seems to walk with an air of confidence, one that surprises his fellow inmates, including a prisoner named Red (Morgan Freeman), a “veteran” of Shawshank. After some time has passed, Andy starts to make the best of the situation he was thrust into.
Days turn to months and the months to years as time starts to pass. Andy has a rough tenure during his first couple of years but he starts to make a name for himself inside the prison walls. He gets on good footing with Shawshank’s warden Norton (Bob Gunton), builds and organizes a prison library with the help from senate funding, does the taxes for almost every single guard within the walls, and most importantly, deepens his friendship with Red and some of his other fellow inmates. This is not the kind of prison movie that you would expect. Sure, there’s some violence here and there but this is a story of redemption and good will. Perhaps the title didn’t make that clear.
What makes the film work so well is the deep bond between Robbin’s Andy and Freeman’s Red. The duo’s friendship comes a long way since the day Andy rode into the prison in a white bus with Red and his cohorts taking bets on who would be the first to cry. The two help each other, together coping with the situation they were given. Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman are the standouts by far, but the rest of the cast did an amazing job as well. Every character was well written and they were all instrumental to the overall story.
Just like the characters, every single scene and detail played an important part in the progression of the story. There were no filler scenes. Everything was important, whether viewers know at the time or not. The sequences documenting Shawshank’s librarian (James Whitmore) and his life outside of prison were super effective and some of the best parts of the movie. They were depressing in a way, but they were important. This is a movie where you want to pay attention to every single little detail because you know they will come into play later. The Shawshank Redemption is an example of brilliant writing.
There’s a build-up that takes place from the very start. The movie might seem slow at parts, especially during the second act, but this all leads to the grand finale. Remember the part where I said every little detail in this movie has meaning? Well, there’s a twist that comes in the movie’s third act, one tighter than a corkscrew. It’s an impressive twist that will leave you in awe wondering how it all even happened. However, after careful examination of the events and subtleties that led up to it, everything makes perfect sense.
It’s a battle between fear and hope. People handle these emotions in different ways and The Shawshank Redemption encapsulates these emotions in fantastic ways. Inside the walls of Shawshank there’s a story of hope, friendship, redemption, fear, and perseverance in the face of dire circumstances. The Shawshank Redemption is a feel-good story that succeed tremendously in execution. It also goes to show that it’s not always doom and gloom inside the walls of prison. There’s always a shimmer of light inside the darkness.