It had to be a Stephen King story line throning majestically at the top of the ever-changing ImDb top 250 list. And so “Shawshank Redemption” has done for quite some time, occasionally surpassed by “The Godfather”, but mostly up top where, in my opinion, it assuredly belongs.

So, why does this movie deserve to be the best movie ever made?

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What is this film?

“Shawshank Redemption” was made in 1994 by Frank Darabont who also made the prison movie (and Stephen King story) “The Green Mile”. Darabont reputedly got the rights for Stephen King’s novella “Rita Heyworth and Shawshank Redemption” for a dollar. Whether or not this is true, I think we can still assert that Darabont got it dirt cheap.

Notably, the title cut out Rita Heyworth because there was a lot of confusion with people in the industry thinking it was a biopic of the actress, who still plays a pivotal role in the film.

The film is about Andy Dufresne, played by Tim Robbins (who played in “Shawshank Redemption” 😉 ) who is put in jail for murdering his wife and her lover. He didn’t do it, although he assuredly wanted to. And so begins the story of how Andy works his way through hardships and evil wardens to survive in the godforsaken prison Shawshank.

All of this is told as seen through the eyes of Red, a standard Morgan Freeman character. And that is where the magic lies. Because you forget very easily that it is Red who tells this story. And Red does not know everything.

In this review, I am presuming that you have seen the movie (if not, shame on you!). There will thus be SPOILERS IN THE TEXT BELOW. You have been warned.

 

What makes it so good?

What makes “Shawshank Redemption” good, for my part, is the intricate plot and the consistency of the chosen style of filming and storytelling. This is an example of excellent use of voice-over narration, where is seduces you and betrays you. I also love the films use of colour.

Everyone always talks about how a good movie tackles an issue that is universal, and the best ones do it in a thorough way that permeates time and space. And this story of redemption, or revenge, on authority, on injustice and on the world in general, has ticked the hearts of the whole world. Notably it was nominated for seven Oscars, but won none.

An interesting fact about “Shawshank” is that it didn’t even make up production costs upon release in the cinema in the 90’s. My guess is that “Shawshank Redemption” is a hard title to sell, the proof being that almost every non-english speaking country has translated it to something completely different (notably Norwegian where it is called “Frihetensregn” or “The Rain of Freedom”).

“Shawshank” did however manage to become the most rented video of all time, according to Blockbuster, and will perhaps be holding onto that title forever more given that rental videos are nigh on instinct.

 

On the use of colour

The Oscar nominated cinematographer of this movie, Roger Deakins, has done brilliant things with colour in this movie that should be awed for its consistency and effect. The pale grey blue of the prison is so omnipresent and emotionally suppressing, it even helps us as viewers empathize with the prisoners.

The consistent use of this particular colour scheme also aids the significant scenes, that usually involves some act of kindness from Andy, to stand out. For instance when he barters a bucket of beers for his mates while they do roof work, there is golden sunshine bathing on their faces. For a few moments. Then back comes the pale grey blue.

More on the use of colour in film can be found in “If it’s purple, someone’s gonna die”, a book on the effect that colour choices have on our emotions.

 

Is it still relevant after 20 years?

Andy works for us like a Gandhi type of character. He doesn’t fight violence with violence, but with intellect. In the same way he doesn´t beat up the guys who rape him in the prison. He makes himself indispensable to the warden and then the guards beat them for him.

And even when the evil warden reveals that Andy will never get out of this prison, because the warden wants him there, Andy fights this injustice with a carefully mastered escape plan. And by taking all of the money he was stealing for warden. And getting the warden and the guards into jail themselves.

It all is perhaps the most perfectly satisfying revenge plot ever. And revenge never goes out of date.

 

Does it deserve the spot on the list?

No argument that this movie has a special hold the first time you watch it. When you watch the sweeping revelation of Andy’s genious escape,  it is like watching Ocean’s Eleven where you beat yourself up for thinking that you knew what was going on. You know nothing.

You can still watch it again and again. I recommend admiring the thoughtful colour choice and the carefully placed pieces of plot that eventually culminates in the ending, and how all those little pieces make you believe that Andy Dufranese could actually have accomplished this most perfect of prison breaks.

The reunion between Andy and Red at the end of the film, is only there because the studio insisted it be there. Like Frank Durabont, who wanted an open ending with Red heading for the Mexican riviera, I do not think this scene needed to be there. I would still know what happened. Because with an open ending you choose yourself, and this ending is the obvious choice.

Either way, I am glad this scene was shot. After so much dreary grey blue, and long minutes of being locked up in a fortress prison, it’s nice to feel the fresh sea breeze and glory in the bright turqouise 😉

This ending is probably why it gets a notch in the feel-good movie post. And to be honest, we all like a movie that makes us feel good.

 

What mood should you be in to watch it?

There is no surpassing the fact that this is a long movie. A full 142 minutes, or 2 hours and 22 minutes. And if you have watched the movie before, you can feel the minutes ticking away. It does get a bit long.

But if you HAVEN’T watched this movie before, it will enrapture you from the first moment you press play. Storylines will unravel and the evil will build in a natural and subtle manner that is elegant and a wonder to watch with new eyes. So wait until you have forgotten the plot, because you will, and watch it again with fresh eyes.

It is a serious drama, with a few entertaining characters and some laughs, but they are always killed immediately by the evils and dangers of prison life, of which there are many to be had.

For my part, the scene when Andy Dufranese locks himself in the wardens office and plays opera (the song is “Canzonetta sull’aria” from Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro”.) over the loudspeakers is one of those pivotal, tear-jerking moments.

When you have a whole prison of scruffy, light-blue clad men stopping in their tracks and listening to an Italian Aria, you have a juxtaposition of culture that truly creates something beautiful. At least in my teary eyes. And I am not even a fan of opera. Yet.

 

Further Watching

If you want to watch more prison break movies, I would recommend some older ones that have far more joy in them. Both “The Great Escape” (1963), where a band of British prisoners of war, gang up with an unruly American to escape the unescapable prison, and “Stalag 17” (1953), a black and white movie which is the funniest of the bunch, have tremendous heart.

Notably they are both on the ImDb top 250 list, so I will talk about them later.

I would also recommend giving “Gilda” (1946), the movie the prisoners of Shawshank watch which has Rita Heyworth in it. It is not the most exciting of movies, but will give you a lot of know how. If you are a nerd like myself.

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Who am I?

I do not work for ImDb, I just have a nerdy need to make sure I watch all the movies people claim to be good. In this way I can make up my own mind about whether or not they are a hype. This is not a per se a recommendation to you from the ImDb Top 250 list, but rather a statement about the movies on it that hopefully will make you want to watch the movie again, or watch the movie and make up a mind of your own 😉

 

Why do I think I can talk about movies?

With an over average interest in movies since watching Star Wars as a 8 year-old, and with some background in the industry, I know at least a little bit about what it takes to get a movie made, and have loads of opinions about what makes them great.

But no matter my merits, it is whether or not you agree with my taste in movies (or my boyfriend’s, whose opinion will be noted if opposing my own) that will make these reviews beneficial to you.

 

Where can you find the film?

I would recommend to buy this one. It looks good on a shelf and is a wonder for lazy Sunday evenings when you just want something good to watch. You should find it at any web or proper DVD-shop around. I will even give you a link to “Shawshank Redemption” on Amazon 😉 It used to be found on Netflix, but at the time I watched it this week, it was not there?

 

Once a month I will review the top 250 movies on ImDb and determine whether they still deserve to be there or not. I start from the top because there is less change in the top than the bottom of the list. Other Fridays of the month, I will look at “New Releases – which one is worth a cinema ticket“, “Guilty Pleasures” and “Unearthing the Best Movies on Netflix“.

All non referenced fun facts are from ImDb 😉

Sign up your email and get updates so that you won’t miss the next ImDb top 250 review. Next month we will have a look at “the Godfather“!

 

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