When it comes to film adaptations of Stephen King books it’s always a coin toss over whether you’ll get a good film. For every Misery there’s a Maximum Overdrive, for every Stand By Me there’s a Thinner. One of the few people to have consistently delivered excellent adaptations of King’s books has been Frank Darabont. The Shawshank Redemption has a reputation as one of the best films ever made and The Mist is considered a modern horror classic. In-between those films, he made The Green Mile, based on my favourite book of King’s, and Darabont definitely does justice to that book.
The plot of the film focuses on Paul Edgecombe, the head of a prison death row in 1935. In his old age, memories of the past have caught up with him and we see him recount the story of his time in 1935, mainly in relation to John Coffey, who was sentenced to death for raping and murdering two white girls. Over time, we see that Coffey has the power of healing and this raises questions in Paul’s mind over whether or not Coffey actually committed the crime he was sentenced to death for. One of the main themes I’ve seen in the film is the equality in death. People of all different races are seen in death row throughout the film and there is no real prejudice from most of the guards, all of them are the same, all of them owe a death sooner or later and there’s no point highlighting the differences now. The film also shows the need to respect the dead through the character of Percy. Throughout the film he’s presented as a complete sadist, wanting to see people die for the sheer thrill and being cruel to the prisoners on the block and this lack of respect makes him one of the most hateful characters in the film. This respect also comes through with Mr Jingles. He only accepts food from those who have respect for the dead, the mouse being sort of the moral high-ground in the film, along with showing the need for forgiveness through the relationship between Mr Jingles and Del. The role of faith is also presented really well through Coffey and the faith that the guards have in him, both his powers and his innocence, with Coffey also showing the need for the acceptance of death, making the whole film feel like a depiction of the Kubler Ross Stages of Grief. The overall curse of life is presented really well at the end with Paul, him having to see the people he loves the most die and him staying alive. It’s even more horrifying when you consider the age of Mr Jingles at the end. Mr Jingles is around 64 at the end, 16 times longer than the average life span of a mouse. If you apply this to a human lifespan, Paul would be over 1000 years old when he finally dies.
However, the film isn’t fully introspective and deep about death, it also has its fair share of humour. Most of the humour is pitch black here, fitting the characters and the situation they find themselves in, showing the need for a coping mechanism in relation to death row (although the darkest humour in the film, the switch for Old Sparky being labeled Mabel’s Hair Dryer, is missing)
In terms of being an adaptation, this is probably the film that is the most true to King’s book. Due to the three hour run time, virtually every major scene from the book is included here, although there are two major exceptions. The first is that the scenes with Paul working out that Coffey is innocent and getting evidence to support it are cut out, which does serve to weaken Paul’s character. The other is that most of the scenes set in modern time in the book are cut out, notably the character of Brad Dolan, the modern day equivalent of Percy.
The performances meanwhile are top notch throughout. Tom Hanks does a great job as Paul, his morality and respect, even in his role as the head of death row, come through brilliantly, along with the fear he feels at the end over having to kill Coffey. This performance is matched by an incredible performance by Michael Clarke Duncan, probably the best in his career. His gentle nature is a perfect contrast to his imposing side and his feelings on the world, the fear of violence and his wonder over the stars and cinema, Duncan fully becomes Coffey and the relationship between him and Paul is presented brilliantly. Doug Hutchinson as Percy meanwhile is brilliantly slimy. His sadistic nature, along with his stupidity and greed are presented brilliantly, making him a great hateful character. David Morse has this great stoic, calm nature as Brutus Howell, along with a sense of quick thinking strength making him one of the most important people on the mile, whilst the guilt that Barry Pepper presents as Dean Stanton at the end of the film is brilliant. Michael Jetter as Del is great as well, brilliantly showing the fear of death, and the relationship he has with Mr Jingles is presented brilliantly by Jetter’s performance. The chaos in the film is shown brilliantly by an incredible performance by Sam Rockwell as Wild Bill, there’s this great madness and life to his performance making him incredibly unpredictable and darkly horrifying throughout the film. The performances meanwhile are excellent. Even in small roles, Darabont regulars Jeffrey DeMunn and William Sadler, along with James Cromwell, Bonnie Hunt, Harry Dean Stanton (in a film with a character named Dean Stanton), Patricia Clarkson, Graham Greene and Gary Sinise are all excellent, in particular Stanton getting a lot of the great dark humour in the film and Cromwell having a lot of warmth to the character.
On a technical level, the film really succeeds. The period details in the production design are brilliantly presented, the effects used for Mr Jingles are really well executed, along with the effects to have Michael Clark Duncan tower over James Cromwell. All the strength on the technical side comes through best with the depiction of the death of Eduard Delecroix. His death is one of the most horrifying things that King ever wrote and, even with the film toning it down a bit (the book says that it lasts 10 minutes), it is one of the most horrifying scenes committed to film, all the strengths in direction, cinematography, sound, editing, they’re all present in this scene and it is the best scene in the film.
Overall, The Green Mile is an excellent film, one of the best adaptations of a Stephen King book. The three hour run time allows for virtually all of the major plot points from the book to be included, the themes related to death are presented brilliantly, the performances all round are excellent and the direction by Darabont, along with the production design, is brilliantly presented. It’s not quite as good as the book in my opinion, but considering the book is one of my favourites, it’s still a good sign.
My Rating: 5/5