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All fairy tales have good guys, bad guys, innocents a grand and sometimes gory confrontation of some kind and a moral to top it all off. By that measure, Frank Darabont's The Green Mile is a wondrous fairy tale. It is one, though, that doesn't need the moral, which takes the form of a pair of present day bookends that throw the story back in time to 1938. Even the critics without spinal cord damage were having trouble getting out of their seats when the final credits hit the screen, just after the three hour mark.
Other than that it's a pretty good story which plays out very slowly. Like Darabont's last flick, The Shawshank Redemption (also based on a Stephen King prison story), up down sideways on every level it's a beautiful flick.
So we'll ignore the old guy (Dabbs Greer) who wanders around in the woods, and the mysterious cabin in said woods and set our wayback machine for Louisiana's Cold Mountain Penitentiary in the year 1935. There, in the "E" Block, the condemned await their last walk down the lime green painted floor (thus the name) to where ol' Sparky waits to fry their little brains. At one end of the block you will find Head Guard Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) who, with Brutus "Brutal" Howell (David Morse), Dean Stanton (Barry Pepper) and the sadistic li'l worm Percy Wetmore (Doug Hutchison) talk gently and calmly to those who are about to die. Well, not Percy. He prefers bustin' chops with his night stick or lyin' in wait for Mr. Jingles, the pet mouse trained by prisoner Eduard Delacroix (Michael Jeter).
At the other end of the block, in the last cell on the left, waits John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan). Roughly seven foot tall, three hundred thirty or so pounds, Coffey's hands are roughly the size of the heads of the two little girls he raped and murdered. When found, Coffey's hands were blood covered, the girl's blonde hair stained red by the same blood. Coffey cried to the sheriff "I tried to take it back!" which was as good as a confession to everyone that heard it.
One by one, the other inmates (Graham Greene, Jeter) take their walks down the mile. Other vicious killers (Sam Rockwell) take their place in the cells. Day by day, Paul Edgecomb becomes more and more convinced that John Coffey is not a murderer at all. The giant is too gentle to be a murderer -- but that doesn't mean he didn't do it. But Coffey's hands seem to have a miraculous power to heal and, once Edgecomb has seen that power, the words of Coffey's confession take on a whole new meaning.
Once you get this far into the flick, what comes next is, truly, miraculous. All the good you see is then properly balanced by a good dose of Stephen King badness. If the pacing wasn't so slow, the enjoyment would have been greater. But the pacing is what the story, a wonderful story, requires. That's why you don't need the bookends. When you see the flick, you'll either agree or disagree.
A couple of Name Stars should be mentioned, though I haven't revealed their subplots 'cuz that would be telling: Bonnie Hunt as Edgecomb's wife; James Cromwell as the Warden and Patricia Clarkson as Melinda, the warden's wife. William Sadler and Gary Sinise both have smaller parts.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Green Mile, he would have paid...
$7 less four bits for the bookends. The one thing you have to give to Darabont is that he can put together a damn fine crew of folk to make his films. Now if he could only get this Stephen King guy to write something other than prison stories . . . <g>
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