Director: Frank Darabont
Cast: Tom Hanks, Michael Clarke Duncan, Bonnie Hunt, Sam Rockwell
Have I Seen it Before: Several times, but not nearly as much as that other prison-set Frank Darabont-directed movie based on a Stephen King story.
Did I Like It: I think it’s objectively a depressing movie, so why do I always feel a little uplifted by it the end. Must say more about me than about the movie itself.
There is—to my mind—only one problem with this film. I don’t for one second believe that Dabbs Greer is an elderly Tom Hanks. That being said, somewhere out there in the multiverse is a version of me who watches this film and wishes that they hadn’t put Tom Hanks in old age makeup. So, in the end, art is often about living with imperfections.
Beyond that, the film is great. A year before Patrick Stewart relented to play Charles Xavier in X-Men (2000), Michael Clarke Duncan had the rare distinction of being born to play a particular role in John Coffey. Hanks is Hanks, which may sound like slightly damning praise, but who doesn’t want to watch Tom Hanks in a movie. The rest of the cast is perfection, right down to the slimy Doug Hutchinson playing the odious Percy Wetmore. Between this film and Galaxy Quest being released in the same year, I am struggling to find a one-two punch that introduced a screen persona more efficiently than Sam Rockwell.
A well-cast movie is one thing, but in truth not much of anything if the writing and directing aren’t there. See Justice League (2017) (minus the tag scene) for a pretty good example. Here, Frank Darabont’s skills are unassailable. It’s a shame that he hasn’t directed a movie since The Mist (2007). It’s an even bigger shame that he was fired as showrunner on The Walking Dead after its first—and only watchable—season. It’s yet a bigger shame still that George Lucas relegated Darabont’s draft for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of The Crystal Skull (2008) to the scrap pile.
It’s a pretty miraculous film that deals with the guards of death row, and still make me want to somehow know these people in real life. They are decent, and in a time with little decency to show for it, that is uplifting, even in the face of tragedy.
Also, and on a slightly unrelated note: I think this book informs this first season of Castle Rock more than any other King work. At press time, there are still a few more episodes left to air. Let's see if I'm right.