Frank Darabont, USA, 1994, 142 min.
The Shawshank Redemption is a chilling portrait of a cold-blooded murderer and sociopath who manages, through patience and careful planning, to convince his fellow inmates that he is actually innocent.
Tim Robbins plays the wife-murderer in much the same way that Anthony Hopkins played Hannibal Lector: a man who is obviously unhinged and dangerous, but is still a joy to watch on screen.
Morgan Freeman plays the long-incarcerated Red, himself a brutal murderer, who befriends Robbin’s Andy Dufresne. The film uses Red as the classic “unreliable narrator”. There is no way to know if his recounting of the events is true. Red could possibly be making it up to paint himself in a better light. Or he may just be confused, his mind addled by age, a gullible old man falling for the outlandish tales of a gifted manipulator.
The film follows the story of Andy’s incarceration after being rightly convicted of his wife’s murder. It shows him using every ounce of self-control to appear a normal innocent man. We see him becoming useful to the prison guards by using his financial skills. We see him winning the affection of other inmates by doing favors and remaining violence-free. And of course we see him winning the sympathy of the audience by fighting off the brutal jail rape-gangs.
But we are never tricked for long. We can see the evil beneath the surface of the character. The casting of Tim Robbins is spot-on. Helped in no small way by the fact that he is a convicted murderer himself. It’s a case of art imitating life.
Through Robbins, we know what the character is capable of, and the absurd excuses he gives only reinforce how manipulative he can be. He even convinces a young inmate to lie for him, telling everyone that Andy was innocent and he knew the true-killer. As if anyone would believe such an outlandish coincidence.
In the end, Andy finally escapes from jail. In the process, framing the poor innocent warden for the crimes of money-laundering and theft. Just another victim to fall in his wake. But the story doesn’t end there. Unfortunately for Red, Andy is not one to leave any loose-ends lying around.
When Red finally gets out of jail we are treated to the sad spectacle of the old man bumbling his way through Andy’s sick puzzles and somehow finding his way into the clutches of the sadistic killer. The film ends before we see Andy murder Red. It’s implied that the murder will take place and the body will be weighed down and dumped into the ocean. A fitting end for Red, who at one point in the film says “I hope the Pacific is as blue as it is in my dreams.”
Well, Red, it turns out it is. And if you weren’t a cold-blooded murderer yourself, I would feel bad about the way you had to find that out.