Paul Edgecomb (Dabbs Greer) is a resident of this nursing home who always seems to have something on his mind, not because he is feeling the effects of age on his faculties, but because of an event in his past that long walks alone seem to help with. He has made friends with Elaine (Eve Brent), a fellow resident, and one day when they are all watching an old Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musical on the television, Paul has to excuse himself in tears and Eve follows him. They take a seat in the dining room by the window and she asks him what is wrong, and he begins to tell her, not convinced that she will believe him but forging ahead anyway: did he ever tell her he used to be a prison guard on Death Row?
Stephen King called director Frank Darabont's adaptation of his serial novel The Green Mile the most faithful of all, and he wasn't wrong, for as if the director was reluctant to leave out any of what turned out to be one of the author's best constructed plots (which was doubly admirable since King claimed he was making it up from instalment to instalment as he went along), it was difficult for fans to point to anything here that might have been missing; anything important, that was. So it was they were both rewarded with one of the biggest hits of their careers, moviewise, as Darabont's version of The Shawshank Redemption had not been a commercial success in cinemas, yet seemingly to make up for that the world's public flocked to this in their droves.
However, simply because King's talents as a storyteller were exemplary and Darabont's talent with classing up a source were just as impressive, didn't nevessarily mean it was worth quite the avalanche of acclaim they received, as The Green Mile wasn't King's best novel by any means. It was a solid read, but more of a Charles Dickens-style experiment in sustaining an audience over a period of time, and that episodic nature carried over to the film. Faithful it was, but with a three hour running time there was plenty that could have been whittled away to make a less long-winded experience; certainly there were plenty of viewers who loved to relax with this of an evening, setting aside the day to indulge themselves for such a long wallow in a film that veered from tearjerking scenes to segments more akin to the horror King was best known for.
The dry sponge execution has gone down as one of the most unpleasant deaths ever created for a motion picture, and it was sequences such as that which gave what could have been airy-fairy phantasmagoria set in a prison block for the soon to be executed something of an edge, with its insistence on not letting the audience off lightly when the harsh realities of life were pressing down. Naturally this offset the sweeter moments and offered a sense of a five course meal of a work, not quite all of human life is here but certainly giving value for money, or value for the amount of time it asked you to spend with it. In the sweetness and light corner was giant-sized John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan), a new inmate convicted of raping and murdering twin little girls, but he's such a simple soul Paul (now Tom Hanks) cannot accept his guilt, though it's not his place to make such judgements.
In the unpalatable corner was new guard Percy Wetmore (Doug Hutchison), a loathsome fellow simply there because his relatives allowed it and because he really wants to put someone to death himself in the electric chair. He represents the worst of humanity: revelling in however he can crush those beneath him under his heel, be they a little mouse one prisoner keeps as a pet or exploiting his position to bully those on Death Row. You could reason they didn't deserve preferential treatment, yet Paul understands they are already set to be punished and visiting more vindictiveness on them only corrodes the soul of the individual doing so, as gratifying your worst impulses, even on murderers, isn't doing anyone any good. Other themes such as the price of ageing and the racism that sees the black Coffey unable to stick up for himself so it is accepted that he must be guilty, carried the film through an abundance of incident, but you would be justified in feeling a shade oversated, even bilious, by the end of it. Can't fault the immaculate production, though. Music by Thomas Newman.