The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Tim Robbins as Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption

Robbins Journey to Becoming a Freeman

It's strange to think that when "The Shawshank Redemption" was released back in September 1994 it was only a moderate hit, yet now it is classed as a classic which features in countless top movie lists and has since gone on to earn millions from video and DVD sales. Why it was such a moderate hit is a bit strange because it is a brilliant movie which never becomes boring no matter how many times you watch it. From the storyline through to the acting, the music and various iconic scenes there is not one thing wrong with it and at nearly 2 and a half hours it never once feels like a bum numbing experience. As such "The Shawshank Redemption" is a must watch movie which seems to get better with each viewing.

The Year is 1947 and Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins - The Hudsucker Proxy), a hot shot banker, is sentenced to two life sentences having been charged with the murder of his wife and her lover. Sent to Shawshank Prison, Andy soon discovers the harsh reality of prison life as the guards dish out beatings and he gets some unwanted attention from 'The Sisters' who take a fancy to him. But somehow Andy manages to keep going and makes friends with some prisoners including Red (Morgan Freeman - Unforgiven) who can get you anything for a price. Over the years Andy makes a name for himself as he ends up helping the guards with their finances as well as cooking the books for the crooked warden as well as campaigning for a better library.

Morgan Freeman as Ellis Boyd 'Red' Redding in The Shawshank Redemption

On one level "The Shawshank Redemption" could be seen as just a prison movie with cliche elements seen in various other prison movies such as the tyrannical warden, the bullying prison guards and so on. But none of these cliche elements really comes into play till the final third of the movie which at 142 minutes means that a lot goes on before it works its way to a sort of cliche but crowd pleasing ending. What fills the first two thirds of "The Shawshank Redemption" is basically the time Andy spends in prison, from being a fresh fish, making friends, some wanted some not, and basically making a name for himself as a smart cookie and financial expert. And what makes these two thirds, this look at like in prison for Andy so interesting is that it is full of chapters, stories about prison life which are captivating.

It is the fact that "The Shawshank Redemption" is made up of so many little stories which makes it so good and the way these stories are told. So as we follow Andy we learn of 'The Sisters' who take a fancy to him, the fact that Red is a man who can get things, that Hadley the chief of the guards is a nasty piece of work and so on. These little stories interweave so a run in with 'The Sisters' sees Red and some fellow prisoners rally around Andy after he is beaten to within an inch of his life. And this continues throughout not just the first two thirds but the whole movie as it interweaves a story which covers a couple of decades.

Whilst all of this is going on we are also warmed by the friendship which forms between Andy and Red as well as their individual characters. It makes it almost a personal journey as if we are part of their close friendship and makes us champion each of them. And in many ways it's the same with the other characters, we warm to them despite being criminals because they all become such good friends, looking out for each other.

And what is sort of ironic is when the final third of the movie arrives and it heads towards being cliche as we watch the tyrannical warden enforcing his control over things as well as some other cliche elements it doesn't feel wrong. In fact these cliche elements make for a wonderful ending full of surprises but surprises which are clever and make for not only a brilliant ending but scene after scene of smile moments. In many ways it makes it a complete movie as whilst the first two thirds are full of drama in each of the stories it culminates to one big drama which works and makes "The Shawshank Redemption" very much a complete movie.

What though makes it all the better are some great performances not just from the main stars but from the likes of William Saddler, Clancy Brown, Bob Gunton, Mark Rolston and James Whitmore. Each of these actors be it Whitmore who plays the loveable Brooks through to Clancy Brown as Hadley create these 3 dimensional characters who no matter how minor part they have to play deliver a better than average performance.

But "The Shawshank Redemption" is very much a movie which works because of Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman as Andy and Red. Each of these actors deliver exceptional performances from Robbins creating Andy as this likeable but also cold inmate through to Freeman creating this sage like character in Red. But it is the way they work together, delivering every emotion in their scenes which is so good, so captivating that you really do get drawn into their friendship.

What this all boils down to is that "The Shawshank Redemption" is one of those really great movies, those movies where all the stars aligned to deliver something exceptional. From the storyline through to the acting, the drama, action, horror and cinematography everything just works perfectly in harmony to deliver a movie which is captivating from start to finish and takes us into the life of a prisoner. Even that it ends up embracing cliche elements doesn't spoil things and in many ways makes it better delivering a fantastic uplifting ending. And as with these exceptional movies "The Shawshank Redemption" is one of those rare movies that once it has finished you feel that you could watch it all again straight away.