I have always felt that there are two kinds of movies: ones you go to, sit and enjoy casually and the other kind: movies that, just like good books, suck you into its story so completely that you experience each moment as if you were there, movies where you feel an extraordinary kinship to its characters, movies that sometimes you wish would never end. “The Green Mile” is just such a movie.
Some say the film, at 3-hours-8-minutes, is far too long. I say there wasn’t one single moment that did not capture and retain my interest.
Adapted from a series of six Stephen King books, the title describes the path that death row inmates at a Louisiana Penitentiary called Cold Mountain must travel from their cellblock to the electric chair. In 1935, Cold Mountain was the scene of a number of miracles manifested by a behemoth of a black man named John Coffey who, while convicted of the rape and murder of two little girls, is in actuality an innocent with magical powers.
The story is told as a long flashback sequence as an elderly Paul Edgecomb (Dabbs Greer) remembers his younger days as the supervisor on Cellblock E. We go back 60 years to 1935, the year in which he suffered a hellish urinary track infection and remembers all too well the events and people who permanently changed his life and others
Tom Hanks now takes the helm as Edgecomb, a fair-minded, respectful guard who walks the mile with his trusted second-in-command, “Brutal” Brutus Howell (David Morse), rookie Dean Stanton (Barry Pepper), veteran guard, Harry Terwilliger (Jeffrey DeMunn) and lastly, Percy Wetmore, (Doug Hutchinson), a sadistic little runt who got his job through high placed connections and tries to elevate his short stature by abusing and tormenting the prisoners. He’s obviously on the wrong side of the bars.
With the exception of John Coffey, played beautifully by Michael Clark Duncan, we learn little of the crimes the other inmates committed. We’re not privy to their inhumanity but are, instead, introduced to them as individuals just like the prison guards themselves come to know their charges. Highlighted among them: a Creole named Eduard “Del” Delacroix (Michael Jeter in a wonderful performance) lightens the moments entertaining everyone with his trained mouse Mr. Jingles (who steals more than a few scenes!) prior to his execution in one of the most horrific scenes ever filmed, and a psychopath named William “Wild Bill” Wharton (well played by Sam Rockwell) whose arrival and evil presence is a constant disruption to the uncommonly sedate cellblock making it now a highly dangerous place to work.
This is an exceptional cast. Even the smaller roles are remarkably well played: Graham Greene as Arlen Bitterbuck, an Indian who is first to die on the row; Harry Dean Stanton as Toot-Toot, the prisoner they use for their execution dress rehearsals; Bonnie Hunt as Edgecomb’s understanding wife, Jan; James Cromwell as the decent but mostly absent Warden Hal Moores whose family troubles keep him preoccupied.
But the story’s high point is the realization by Edgecomb that gentle giant Coffey is a miracle-worker and the magnetism between the men is remarkable to watch. There is decency on The Green Mile and magic and the two make for some very lovely moments despite the horrible violence that goes on there.
Also appearing are Gary Sinise and Patricia Clarkson.
It was produced, written and directed by Frank Darabont who, five years earlier, directed another Stephen King-adapted story, “The Shawshank Redemption”.
Lotta says “The Green Mile” is superb drama.