Once again, I find myself in possession of what is considered one of those “must watch” movies. Now I will admit, it took me a long time to get around to watching today’s movie because it honestly never really piqued my interest. However, the near constant barrage of it on the various Turner channels (TNT and TBS), and my catching various portions of the movie at one point or another prompted me to sit down and watch it in it’s entirety one day. Even though I had watched it, and will admit that it earned the hype it was given, I still had no intention of buying it on DVD because I honestly didn’t see the reason in buying it because IT WAS ALWAYS ON TV. However, this past Christmas, my brother was giving away all of his old DVD’s and I couldn’t say no to a free copy of this movie. So let’s get right into today’s movie, The Shawshank Redemption.
The plot: In 1947 Portland, Maine, Andy Dufresne is on trial for the murder of his wife and her lover and though he professes his innocence, he is sentenced to 2 consecutive life terms in prison. At Shawshank State Penitentiary, Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding is attending his parole hearing and afterwards, he heads back to the yard and discusses his chances of getting parole with his fellow inmates. When an alarm sounds, the prisoners gather around the fence to watch the new prisoners arrive and Red gets his first glimpse of Andy and makes a bet with the other prisoners that he will be the first one to break. Andy and the other new prisoners are brought inside and are introduced to Warden Norton and Hadley, the captain of the guards. Norton explains the rules in his prison and then the prisoners are hosed down and marched naked to their cells. After a month in prison, Andy approaches Red, who is known as the man able to get items inside the prison, and asks if he can get him a small rock hammer. Red tells him it will cost him $10 dollars, then gives Andy a warning about Bogs Diamond and his group, the Sisters, who have their sights set on raping Andy. One day, Andy is cornered by Bogs and the Sisters and though he tries to fight them off, he ends up being beaten. Two years later, Red manages to get Andy and some other friends on a work detail re-tarring the ceiling of the workshop and while they are working, they overhear Hadley complaining about an inheritance he received and how much taxes he will have to pay. Andy approaches Hadley and offers to help him keep most of that money without having to pay taxes on it in exchange for some beers for the roofing crew. Hadley agrees and the prisoners sit on the roof drinking some beers while Andy simply watches, and Red tries to figure out why he did it. Some time later, Andy goes to see Red while he is watching a movie and asks for a Rita Hayworth poster and Red tells him it will take a few weeks. As Andy leaves the theater, he is grabbed by Bogs and the Sisters and taken into the projection room, where they attempt to rape him but when Andy taunts them, they beat him close to death instead. Andy spends a month in the infirmary and Bogs, after spending a week in solitary, is beaten severely by Hadley, to the point where he can no longer walk and is transferred to a prison hospital. As a welcome back gift for Andy, Red and some of the other inmates collect some alabaster rock for Andy, who wants to use it to make chess pieces. When Andy is out of the infirmary, he sees the rocks, as well as the poster of Rita Hayworth, waiting for him in his room. One day, Norton has a surprise inspection done of some of the cells and he personally watches as Hadley searches Andy’s cell, then speaks with him afterwards. A few days later, Andy is transferred from the laundry detail to the prison library and assigned as an assistant to Brooks, the prison librarian. Andy and Brooks both think this is strange but then they learn that it was meant to get Andy away from the inmates so he can help the guards, and eventually the warden, with their taxes. As Red and the others joke about what Andy is doing, Andy says that he is going to try and get some new books for the library. Andy approaches Norton about it but when Norton refuses, saying it isn’t in the budget, Andy says he will try writing the senator every week and Norton tells him it is a waste of time but he will mail the letters out for him. In 1954, Brooks is paroled and he is upset at the news, as he has spent 50 years in Shawshank and doesn’t know anything but life in the prison. After he gets out, Brooks writes a letter to Red, telling him how he felt outside of prison, before he hangs himself inside the halfway house. One day, Andy receives some funds for the prison library as well as some donations of used books from various libraries and told to stop writing them. As Andy is going through the boxes of books, he finds a box of records and puts one on the record player in the Norton’s office, and then puts the music on over the loud speaker so the other prisoners can listen to it. Norton is displeased with this and sends Andy to solitary for two weeks. As time passes, Andy is given more money for the library, as he started writing 2 letters a week.. In 1963, Norton starts a prisoner work program, which he uses to pad his own pockets by exploiting the prisoners for cheap labor while accepting bribes from other contractors. Norton has Andy launder the extra money by setting it up in account under the name of Randall Stephens. In 1965, a new inmate by the name of Tommy Williams comes to Shawshank and he is adopted by Red and Andy’s group. Tommy asks Andy to help him pass his GED, as he has a wife and baby outside and wants to be a better provider for them, and Andy agrees to help teach him to read and prepare for the test. When Tommy learns what Andy is in for, he tells Andy that he was incarcerated in another prison 4 years ago and his cell mate, who had been the one to kill Andy’s wife and her lover. Andy goes to Norton with this information, believing that it will be cause to get a new trial for his case but Norton refuses to believe it and then has Andy placed in solitary for a month when he gets upset. As the prisoners discuss what happened with Andy, Tommy receives an envelope from the Education Board, as Andy had mailed in Tommy’s test, and when he refuses to open it, Red opens it for him and tells him that he passed. Norton has Tommy meet him by the prison gates one night and questions him about what he told Norton and after Tommy swears it is true, Norton has Hadley kill him under the pretense that he was trying to escape. Norton goes to tell Andy about the murder and when Andy says he will refuse to launder the money any more, Norton threatens to destroy the library and make things worse for Andy, then tells Hadley to give him another month in solitary. When he finally is released from solitary, Andy is talking with Red and tells him of his dream of living in Zihuatanejo, Mexico, a Pacific coastal town, when he gets out of there. When Red tells Andy that he doesn’t know if he can make it on the outside and Andy is being unrealistic, Andy tells him that when he gets out of there, he needs to visit a particular hayfield in Buxton and retrieve something that Andy buried there. Red is worried about Andy and tells some of their friends and Heywood tells him that Andy had asked him for 6 ft of rope, and they worry that he might commit suicide. After finishing his work on the books in Norton’s office, Andy heads back to his cell and stares at his poster of Raquel Welch, which is the latest poster to replace his Rita Hayworth poster, and pulls out the rope. The next morning at roll call, Andy’s cell is found to be empty and Norton is outraged. As he has Red brought in to question him, and as he gets frustrated with nobody knowing how Andy disappeared, he starts throwing Andy’s rock’s at Red, Hadley, and finally the poster, which rips to reveal a tunnel in the wall. A manhunt is called for Andy and they find his old prison clothes and the rock hammer he used to make the tunnel. In flashback, it is shown that Andy had switched out the ledger from Norton’s office and stolen one of his suits and shoes, which he placed in a plastic bag to keep them dry, while he made his way through the tunnel, then used a storm to cover the sound of his breaking a sewer pipe, which he crawls through for 500 yards in order to escape. As Norton, Hadley, and Red are examining the tunnel, Andy, under the guise of Randall Stephens, heads to a dozen banks in Portland and proceeds to close out all of the accounts, then asks one of them to mail something for him, which is the ledger and a letter detailing the murders and corruption to the local newspaper. The FBI gets involved and Hadley is arrested but Norton chooses to kill himself rather than be arrested. A few days later, Red receives an unsigned post card from Fort Hancock, Texas, and he knows that that is where Andy crossed the border into Mexico. After 40 years in Shawshank, Red is paroled but, just like Brooks, he has a hard time adjusting to the outside. Remembering his promise to Andy, Red heads to the hayfield in Buxton and finds a lunchbox with a note from Andy and an envelope with some cash inside. Red violates his parole by heading to Fort Hancock, Texas, then crosses the border and makes his way to Zihuatanejo, where he finds Andy working on fixing up an old boat and the two friends embrace each other.
The Shawshank Redemption met with high praise from the critics, holding a certified fresh rating of 91% on Rotten Tomatoes. The critical consensus on the site is that, “The Shawshank Redemption is an uplifting, deeply satisfying prison drama with sensitive direction and fine performances.” The movie was nominated for 7 Academy Awards, the most for any Stephen King film adaptation, but it did not win any of them. While it was highly praised by the critics, it was only a modest success at the box office, earning $58 million off of a $25 million budget. However, due to word of mouth, and TNT airing it nearly every day starting in 1997, the movie would become considered by many to be the greatest film to come out of the 1990’s and is widely regarded one of the greatest movies of all time.
All of the hype about this movie is well deserved because this is a fantastic movie. The acting was great, with Tim Robbins (Andy) and Morgan Freeman (Red) doing fantastic jobs while Bob Gunton (Norton) and Clancy Brown (Hadley) were equally good in their roles. The story was really good, moving at a pretty slow and deliberate pace which helped build up interest in the movie and characters while doing a good job in not not becoming boring. I honestly think the methodical, steady pacing of the movie was meant to mirror the Andy’s plan to escape, showing how he kept at it for years and never gave up hope that it would work. There wasn’t really any special effects used in this movie, as it used the drama to help carry the story very effectively. I will say that the little side part where it focused on Brooks when he got paroled was incredibly sad to watch. Like I said, well deserving of all the hype and definitely a movie that is worth watching.
Rating: 5 out of 5