Top 100 Movie Review: No. 002 – The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Ranked 002 on the IMDb Top 100 Movie List (as at May 2017).
Watched movie during the month of September 2020.

Cast: Tim Robbins (Andy Dufresne), Morgan Freeman (Ellis Boyd ‘Red’ Redding), Bob Gunton (Warden Norton), William Sadler (Heywood), Clancy Brown (Captain Hadley), Gil Bellows (Tommy), Mark Rolston (Bogs Diamond), James Whitmore (Brooks Hatlen)
Directors: Frank Darabont
My rating: 9.5 / 10

In 1947 Portland, Maine, banker Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is convicted of murdering his wife and her lover and is sentenced to two consecutive life sentences at the Shawshank State Penitentiary. He is befriended by Ellis “Red” Redding (Morgan Freeman), an inmate and prison contraband smuggler serving a life sentence who smuggles goods into the prison. Red procures a rock hammer and a large poster of Rita Hayworth for Andy. Assigned to work in the prison laundry, Andy is frequently sexually assaulted by “the Sisters” and their leader, Bogs (Mark Rolston) but he never willing submits to their advances.

In 1949, Andy overhears the captain of the guards, Captain Byron Hadley (Clancy Brown), complaining about being taxed on an inheritance and offers to help him shelter the money legally. After an assault by the Sisters nearly kills Andy, Hadley beats and cripples Bogs, who is subsequently transferred to another prison and now has to drink his food. Andy is never attacked again as everyone understand he is protected. Warden Samuel Norton (Bob Gunton) meets Andy and reassigns him to the prison library to assist elderly inmate Brooks Hatlen (James Whitmore), a front to allow Andy to manage financial matters for other prison staff, guards from other prisons, and the warden himself. Andy begins writing weekly letters to the state legislature requesting funds to improve the prison’s decaying library.

Brooks is paroled in 1954 after serving 50 years, but he cannot adjust to the outside world and eventually hangs himself. The legislature sends a library donation that includes a recording of The Marriage of Figaro; Andy plays an excerpt over the public address system and is punished with solitary confinement. After his release from solitary, Andy explains that hope is what gets him through his time, a concept that Red dismisses as hope only drives you mad. In 1963, Norton begins exploiting prison labour for public works, profiting by undercutting skilled labour costs and receiving bribes. Andy launders the money using the alias “Randall Stephens”.  Andy starts helping inmates get their high school certificate via General Educational Development (GED) test.

Tommy Williams (Gil Bellows) is incarcerated for burglary in 1965. Andy and Red befriend him, and Andy helps him pass his GED exam. A year later, Tommy reveals to Red and Andy that his cellmate at another prison had claimed responsibility for the murders for which Andy was convicted.  Andy’s friends struggle to process how Any is actually an innocent after they all didn’t believe him.  Andy approaches Norton with this information, but Norton refuses to listen, and when Andy mentions the money laundering, Norton sends him back to solitary confinement. Norton has Hadley murder Tommy under the guise of an escape attempt.

Andy attempts to discontinue the laundering, but relents after Norton threatens to destroy the library, remove Andy’s protection from the guards, and move him to worse conditions out of his one bed cell. Andy is released from solitary confinement after two months, and he tells a sceptical Red that he dreams of living in Zihuatanejo, a Mexican coastal town. Andy also tells him of a specific hayfield near Buxton, asking Red—once he is released—to retrieve a package that Andy buried there. Red worries about Andy’s well-being, especially when he learns Andy asked a fellow inmate for 6 ft (1.8 m) of rope.  Red doesn’t sleep that night worrying calling it the longest night of his life.

At the next day’s roll call, the guards find Andy’s cell empty. An irate Norton throws a rock at a poster of Raquel Welch, that Red had provided, hanging on the cell wall, revealing a tunnel that Andy dug with his rock hammer over the past 19 years. The previous night, Andy used the rope to escape through the tunnel and prison sewage pipe, taking Norton’s suit, shoes, and ledger, containing proof of the money laundering. While guards search for him, Andy poses as Randall Stephens, withdraws over $370,000, a fortune in 1960s, of the laundered money from several banks, and mails the ledger and other evidence of the corruption and murders at Shawshank to a local newspaper. State police arrive at Shawshank and take Hadley into custody, while Norton commits suicide to avoid arrest.

The following year, Red is finally paroled after serving 40 years when he talks straight to the parole board for once not worrying about what they think. Red struggles to adapt to life outside prison and fears that he never will. Remembering his promise to Andy, he visits Buxton and finds a cache containing money and a letter asking him to come to Zihuatanejo. Red violates his parole by traveling to Fort Hancock, Texas, and crossing the border into Mexico, admitting that he finally feels hope. He finds Andy on a beach in Zihuatanejo, and the two reunited friends happily embrace.

What’s to Like
The performance from every actor, the story of hope in the darkest of places, the music, the friendships.

What’s not to Like

This is a personal favourite movie of mine having seen it on release, purchased the DVD, and watching it many times over the years so I’m very biased in my entertainment of this film.  Tim Robbins is a strong actor but here his understated but determined Andy is Robbins at his best.  Morgan Freeman who has made a career  of strong supporting actor roles again shines as the hardened Red.  Whereas Andy gives his core self, maybe loosening up a little, Red starts as a cynical character hardened but his experiences but he slowly finds hope though his friendship with Andy who never loses his hope. 

Andy’s actions to help with inmates despite being regularly brutalised and wrongly incarcerated is inspiring.  Andy gets the inmates on a work details some cold beers, he plays some music to lift inmates spirits and he teaches inmates to help them better their lives.  Andy never let’s Shawshank prison corrupt his spirit.  It nice to think that in real life an individual might be able to live the same circumstances but still not be broken.  The film shows the brutal side of life but really it’s major focus is how only you can imprison your spirit and your mind, it’s a part of you that is yours alone.  In the end Andy and Red’s true freedom is their friendship.

The scene when Andy crawls out of the sewer to freedom is uplifting and his freedom is more then deserved after crawl for the ‘mud’ over 19 years being incarcerated.  A much watch.

Academy Awards

  • Best Picture – nominee
  • Best Actor in a Leading Role (Morgan Freeman) – nominee
  • Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published – nominee
  • Best Cinematography – nominee
  • Best Sound – nominee
  • Best Film Editing – nominee
  • Best Music, Original Score – nominee


About Nathan

A World traveller who has so far experienced 71 countries (76 by June 2023) in this amazing world.
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