Give the Gents a Hand: The Shawshank Redemption

After a month of films devoted to women, this month Friday Film Review will examine great male performances. We begin with one of the best films of the nineties, The Shawshank Redemption.

Starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman
Written and Directed by Frank Darabont
Distributed by Columbia Pictures

Showing how important hope can be in the most brutal of situations, The Shawshank Redemption tells the story of Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) and the nineteen years he spends in prison after being wrongly convicted for his wife’s murder.   There are so many reasons why this film is great, why every time it comes on TV you can’t help but watch it all the way through, but when it comes down to it, the reason why we keep coming back to Shawshank is the great performances and chemistry of leads Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman.

Confronting beatings, rape and murder during his nineteen years in prison, Andy easily could have become a cold, hard man and yet instead this timid Maine banker makes the seemingly irrational decision to cling to hope as a way of keeping his humanity. The brilliance of Tim Robbins’ performance is showing Andy’s determination in the worst of circumstances.

When Andy’s faith pays off, it’s one of the all time greatest scenes put on film.   I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen the film, but those who have know exactly the power of the scene I’m talking about.

It’s well known, so well known in fact that it’s spawned a Family Guy bit, that if you want a character to narrate your film, Morgan Freeman is it.   In this film Freeman is Red, a fellow convicted murderer who befriends Andy and tells his story to the audience.   Unlike Andy, Red is guilty of his crime and over the years has grappled with letting go of his violent past.

It seems incomprehensible that Freeman didn’t win the Oscar that year.   Even though he’s had a long career filled with impressive roles, without a doubt Red is Freeman’s best performance. With Red, Freeman brilliantly showcases both the pain of knowing you wasted your life with the tough and playful attitude needed to get through prison life.   He’s sensitive without ever being a sap and amongst all the inmates at Shawshank most deserving of redemption.

Robbins and Freeman play off each beautifully.   Theirs is not a bromance per say, but the bond Red and Andy forge helps keep the other alive.   Red teaches Andy about the rules for surviving prison and in turn Andy helps Red realize the power of imagining a new life on the outside.

Knowing that your life has the possibility of being better is the ultimate message of this film, and just like Red narrates towards the end:

“You better get busy living, or get busy dying.   That’s god damn right.”

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