“Green Mile” is based on a series of novels written by Stephen King. The story is about a black man, John Coffey, who is charged for kidnapping and murdering two little white girls. He is convicted and sentenced to death promptly. Most of the story is about his time on death row, in the prison system known as, 'The Green Mile’. Judging by his look at the time of his arrest and appearance, Coffey appears to have been an agricultural worker, a farm hand. He is extremely huge and, seemingly, simple minded.
The Green Mile is not a film which can be described easily. All of the characters are significant. If there is a plot, it is submerged under a dozen significant sub-plots. The characters are what keep us entranced during this three hour celebration of morality.
Tom Hanks, Paul Edgecomb, plays a role of a prison guard in charge of Cold Mountain Penitentiary. Here he supervises the incarceration and final execution (by electric chair) of criminals. The floor from the prison cells to the execution room of prison is lined with green linoleum, which gives rise to the title of movie, The Green Mile.
Based on a novel of Stephen King, one is not surprised when a new prisoner arrives who fails to fit into any kind of prison mold. John Coffey is a mountain of a man who shows peace and innocence in equal measures. Every day that he stays on the row, increases Paul's belief that he was wrongly charged for killing two little girls. But Paul's all efforts, and even his work, are continuously hindered by a junior guard, Percy Wetmore, (Doug Hutchison).
Percy is connected in large political circles and uses this form of protection to free his essential desires. He likes to frighten, humiliate, and hurt other people, never a good combination in a prison guard. Luckily, Percy is well matched by Paul.
Balance seems to be significant in the movie because just as Percy and Paul struggle on conflicting sides of morality, John Coffey is soon introduced to his opposite, William Wharton, (Sam Rockwell). Wharton is a thoroughly evil man; he seems determined to spread as much suffering as inhumanly possible. Unconcerned with his execution, he takes every single opportunity to attack and kill the guards. I even feel some sympathy for Percy when he comes within the reach of Wharton.
All the supporting roles are excellent, although Graham Green's character, Arlen Bitterbuck, was not so impressive and memorable. I would like to especially praise Michael Jeter, who plays a role of Cajun prisoner, Eduard Delacroix, who has a comic dose of eccentricity and David Morse, who plays Brutus, Paul's right hand man. Eduard introduces another minor supporting character, Mr. Jingles the mouse.
There is a lot of symbolism in this movie. The mouse, adopted by Eduard, represents freedom. He comes and goes without any restrictions. He can not be trapped and he enjoys life, as expressed through his basic circus activities. Coffey's healing power clearly represents good power of God. The ephemeral black insects that he releases after absorbing disease imply more than illness. In the end, a movie that might have centered on the morality of the death sentence, takes us in another direction entirely. Tom’s performance forces us to examine our lives. Can we distinguish the good in those around us and can we resist the evil? (Web, 1)
There are way too many executions. They all are done quit well, bringing the perfect amount of pathos to the proceedings, without ever being manipulative. But overkill is simply overkill. Three executions are shown in their entirety, plus a few boring dry run trial executions. There is a scene where Paul Edgecomb goes to visit Gary, the lawyer who represented John Coffey. It does nothing to further the story, or Paul's perceptions of Coffey, and could be omitted easily. Further, it tries to start a brand new issue that until this point had not been brought up, and, given the movie’s tone, really did not need to be brought up so openly by an extra character.
Michael Clarke, as John Coffey, did an outstanding job, although for the most part of the movie he was nearly unintelligible. Sure, that is the character (illiterate, talking in backwoods slang), but between the mumbled conversation, and the 1930s jargon, I had a hard time trying to figuring out what he had to say. Even though Coffey is believed to be touched by God, still his speeches were way too complex for a man of his education. And some other times, he lacks any complexity in his speech at all. Credit should go to Duncan, who does a fine, charming job bringing this huge but innocent man to new life.
Movie could probably have done with much better pacing. Maybe not in the style of a summer popcorn movie but a trim of about 15 to 30 minutes would have made it a better film. Still, all main and minor characters and plotlines that were explored probably deserved appreciation, as overall they all played their parts well (including the mouse). Those, you have read the series of novel may complain for omitting several parts of story, but this is a film, not a novel. If I want all of the details, I would probably read the book.
Even when it falls back on the contrived, ‘Green Mile’ still holds on to the viewers on an emotional level and it continues to resonate for a long time, which by itself is enough reason to recommend this film.