Film Review – The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
During the summer months, we as moviegoers often replace the more grounded, interpersonal dramas with epic, expansive blockbusters that focus more on the special effects than the story. With that in mind, let’s take a look at one of the best dramas to ever come to the big screen, The Shawshank Redemption! You probably have seen it multiple times on networks like TNT or AMC, but what qualities have made this film stand the test of time? The following review will be spoiler free.
The Shawshank Redemption is directed by Frank Darabont and stars well-known actors such as Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. After being convicted of the murder of his wife and her lover, Andy Dufresne (Robbins) is sent to life in prison at the Shawshank State Penitentiary in Maine. While there, Andy begins to ingratiate himself with a group of inmates led by Red (Freeman). Although over time he carves out a nice life for himself at the prison, he encounters countless moments of opposition led by the warden (Robert Gunton) and the lead guard (Clancy Brown).
Although it has since experienced increasing prosperity after leaving theaters, The Shawshank Redemption was considered by many to be bomb at the box office as it failed to recover its production budget. Many higher-ups at Castle Rock Entertainment cited a lukewarm review in the Los Angeles Times as one of the main culprits against the film’s initial financial success.
However, as you probably know, the movie has since improved its popularity and financial standing since its release onto television. This maneuver was made possible after Ted Turner purchased Castle Rock Entertainment. Since Turner then owned Castle Rock (and by proxy The Shawshank Redemption), it allowed for TNT to air the film at very low costs while still charging premium advertisement prices to companies. Rights retainers of films earn practically all of the TV revenue for films. This fact makes The Shawshank Redemption‘s success increasingly lucrative for Ted Turner.
We can all agree that the film wouldn’t be as financially successful on television without being such a hit with fans and critics, but what traits allow for the film to continue to rake in the dough?
What I Liked
Of all the films I have seen over the years, The Shawshank Redemption may be the best at toying with your emotions. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll get angry, you’ll even get disgusted. However, each of these emotions are warranted. Unlike other films, Shawshank refrains from feeling manipulative or fake.
In essence, you’re watching a highlight tape of Andy Dufresne’s life. Under less creative minds, The Shawshank Redemption could have felt similar to a Lifetime movie. However, while Lifetime films (and lesser theatrical film for that matter) tell you how to feel, Shawshank shows you how to feel by crafting perfect scenes that express their emotion in the little details. Tim Robbins, who has never been better than in this film, cracks a little smirk on his face and you completely understand all his pain, agony, and hope for the future.
Obviously, Shawshank has more overt emotional moments as well. But, they only pack the punch that they do because the base was set in the quieter moments of the film.
Another addition to the emotion comes from Morgan Freeman’s voice-over work throughout the film. Not only is his voice incredibly melodic and soothing, but it actually adds to the story in ways that many voice-overs have failed to replicate. Keeping up with the idea of showing and not telling, Freeman discusses the who, where, when, and (most importantly) the why instead of the what. The voice-over actually adds to each scene, providing for an improved context for each character while also allowing a more resonant emotional experience.
What I Liked…Continued
The emotion continues with the gorgeous music composed by Thomas Newman. Like I mentioned in my review of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, the mark of a truly great score comes with its recognizability and how it accents the frames onscreen. Not only is it just absolutely beautiful, it perfectly heightens the feel of every single scene.
People fail to realize how much a score can influence their thoughts towards a film. When the score swells at just the right moment, you can easily be brought to tears when paired with a powerful scene.
The score isn’t afraid to get intense, either. For those that have seen The Shawshank Redemption, you would know that there are some pretty serious low points for our characters to endure. The score is an added dimension to all these moments, helping you to feel disgusted with certain characters when necessary.
What I Liked…Continued…Continued
All these discussion points are great, but what really allows for The Shawshank Redemption to flourish is its realization of the idea of hope. While you may feel blue, there’s an ever-presenting feeling of light at the end of the tunnel. This is one of the main reasons for The Shawshank Redemption‘s watchability time and time again.
It’s a difficult maneuver to accomplish. Weaving through dark tones while keeping the idea of hope alive could cause some serious tonal issues. If done incorrectly, it can confuse the audience by sending conflicting feelings. A scene that tells you to feel hopeful but act hopeless could even become laughable. But thanks to Frank Darabont and company, they account for the best parts of the film.
Many movies would stay away from this combination altogether. This is precisely what makes Shawshank original and, above all else, sincere.
In the end, The Shawshank Redemption does what any movie should do: make its audience emotionally invested in the story all the while having some beautiful themes underneath the surface. Naturally, it gets an A+. It’ll bring a smile to your face, and that’s more than a lot of movies can say these days. It’s certainly worth a top spot on the IMDB Top 250 list. For those of you who haven’t seen the film, it’s on TNT seamingly every other week so you have no excuse in refraining from seeing the film in the near future. Get to it!
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