Starring: Tom Hanks, Michael Clarke Duncan. David Morse, Doug Hutchison, Barry Pepper, Bonnie Hunt, Sam Rockwell, Michael Jeter, James Cromwell, Patricia Clarkson
Rated R for Violence, Language, and Some Sex-Related Material
"The Green Mile" is a standard order melodrama that is built on nostalgia and faith in something greater than ourselves. It is very manipulative and never subtle, but in this case that's a good thing.
Paul Edgecomb (Hanks) is a guard on death row at a prison in Louisiana. E-Block, or The Green Mile, as it's known, is where he works with his fellow guards. Most of them he likes, but then there's Percy (Hutchison), a sadistic creep that Paul can't wait to get rid of but who is staying around long enough to see a live execution. One day he gets a new prisoner. John Coffey (Duncan) is a mountain of a man convicted of raping and murdering two little girls. But when Paul introduces John to the reality of life on The Green Mile, Coffey offers him a strange question: "Do you leave the lights on after bedtime?" he asks. It soon becomes clear that Coffey has the power to heal, and Paul must figure out how, or even if, he should save Coffey's life.
"The Green Mile" is a good movie, but not a great one. The plot is standard order stuff, but when the fantasy elements become involved, it becomes a little too hard to swallow. Movies like this do best when they are anchored in reality, at least somewhat. "The Notebook," for example (a movie that is surprisingly similar to "The Green Mile"), was never realistic, but it took place in our world. It's hard to feel nostalgic for magic.
The performances are uniformly strong. Few actors are more likable than Tom Hanks, which makes him ideal for this kind of a role. Hanks is, as usual, playing an everyman. There's nothing particularly special about Paul Edgecomb: he works hard, has a loving wife, a strong religious faith, and so on. Hanks provides the character with the necessary depth to make him human while still fitting in a story that might as well have been tinted sepia tone. Michael Clarke Duncan is neither too maudlin nor too cute as the "magical" character that's designed to manipulate the audience's emotions. Coffey's greatest strength is his simplicity, and that's how Duncan plays him. The rest of the cast is filled with some of the most reliable character actors, but special mention has to go to Doug Hutchison, who's Percy is simultaneously creepy, sadistic and pathetic. Hanks and Duncan deserved all the praise they got, but it's Hutchison who sticks out.
The film was directed by Frank Darabont, who along with "The Shawshank Redemption" and "The Majestic" (which I haven't seen, although it should be included if the reviews are anything to go by), has made his career on nostalgic tearjerkers like this ("The Mist" being the exception). It takes a skilled director to find the sweet spot between too much and not enough. While it doesn't have as big of a punch as "The Notebook," it's effective nonetheless.
If there are any flaws in the movie, they are these: the length and the ending. At over three hours, this movie is too long. A languid pace is essential for a movie like this to work, but three hours and 9 minutes is excessive. Too much time is spent with the minor characters and there is a subplot about the warden's (Cromwell) cancer-stricken wife (Clarkson) that could have been deleted or at least cut down. And the ending doesn't work. It's too bleak when it should be bittersweet.
Still, for those who are looking for a shamelessly manipulative (and proud of it) melodrama, "The Green Mile" fits the bill.