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The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

06/23/2011 2 comments

Stephen King is well-known for spinning tales of terror ranging from the supernatural to the mundane, using his considerable storytelling skills to inject fear into such things as a vintage car, a hotel room, and high school awkwardness. What many people don’t know is that happens when he steps outside the realm of horror and offers up an inspirational tale of maintaining hope in a situation that seems utterly hopeless, and in keeping a strong spirit in a setting that seems determined to tear you down. The result is this.

The Shawshank Redemption is a drama film written and directed by Frank Darabont, based on the Stephen King novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. It stars Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton, and Clancy Brown.

It is 1947. A mild-mannered banker named Andy Dufresne has just been convicted of the murder of his wife and her lover, despite his protestations of innocence, and sentenced to two life terms in the infamous Shawshank Prison. While there, he meets and befriends one Ellis Redding (known to his friends as Red), who is well-known in the prison for being able to get things for the inmates, and makes two simple requests: a rock hammer, in order to start and maintain a rock collection while in prison, and a poster of Rita Hayworth, one of the sex symbols of the day. Red takes an interest in Andy over the years as inmates come and go (including a lifer who couldn’t handle the outside world after serving 50 years in prison), watching as every part of Shawshank tries to break his will to go on, from the corrupt warden to the predatory band of rapists known as the Sisters. However, Red is about to learn an important lesson from the quiet banker: Prison is more than the walls that contain you. Prison is a state of mind – and if you don’t let prison get into your mind, you are capable of some amazing things.

I was honestly surprised when I found out this was Stephen King’s work. I’d seen and read a lot of his usual fare (my first taste of him was Carrie), and while there are some terrifying moments like Andy becoming the target of the Sisters, most of the tale is character-driven. Having Red as the point-of-view character allows the audience to observe Andy from a point one step removed from the man, even as we cheer on his efforts to overcome the institution’s restrictions. The main circle of convicts that the narrative follows over 20 years are mostly sympathetic despite their crimes, and as they start to look to Andy as a beacon of hope, we look to him as well: his unbreakable spirit offers us guidance for the times when circumstances seem hopeless. In other words, The Shawshank Redemption is spiritually the complete opposite of The Butterfly Effect. Both movies offer a protagonist who is repeatedly beaten down, but only one ultimately overcomes.

Of course, because it’s stupid to hate an institution, even one as intrinsically oppressive as a prison, the movie offers two groups of antagonists on whom we can focus our hate: The corrupt warden, whose every effort seems angled towards breaking the collective spirit of the inmates (and Andy in particular), and the Sisters, a gang of prison rapists who naturally target the fresh-faced Andy when he first arrives. Of course, this isn’t to say that the two antagonist groups are necessarily working to parallel purposes, as once Andy starts to become useful to the Warden, the Sisters’ reign of terror is brought to a swift – and brutal – end. Both the Warden and the Sisters feel like an intrinsic part of Shawshank, like natural predators in the prison environment, and they are the worst kind of douchebag that can be found in any environment. Specifically, they do what they do because they know they can get away with it, making their respective comeuppances that much more satisfying.

This movie will be an unexpected surprise for those familiar with Stephen King horror: a deep, inspiring story about one man’s unbreakable spirit in a setting designed to trap both body and soul within inescapable walls. Absolutely watch this movie.

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Law Abiding Citizen (2009)


Clyde Alexander Shelton has every reason to be committing these murders. The justice system let him down, striking a plea bargain with one of the men responsible for the rape and murder of his wife and daughter in exchange for testimony against his accomplice. He has every right to be angry with the perpetrators, as well as the lawyers and judiciaries who keep dying. He has to be behind them somehow, but this is impossible. Why? Shelton has been locked in solitary confinement the whole time.

Law Abiding Citizen is an American thriller written by Kurt Wimmer and directed by F. Gary Gray. It stars Jamie “Collateral” Foxx, Gerard “Tomorrow Never Dies” Butler, Christian “Prison Break” Stolte, Josh “The Collector” Stewart, Bruce “MacGyver” McGill, Colm “DS9” Meaney, and Viola “Antwone Fisher” Davis.

When Clyde Shelton (Butler) witnesses the brutal rape and murder of his wife and daughter, all he wants is for the perpetrators Clarence (Stolte) and Rupert (Stewart) to be brought to justice. However, prosecutor Nick Rice (Foxx) informs Clyde that the DNA evidence at the scene was ruled inadmissible due to botched forensics, and Clyde’s testimony is not considered strong enough to guarantee a conviction. Wanting to keep him 100% conviction rate, Nick strikes a deal with Clarence, allowing him to plead to third degree murder in exchange for testimony that will send his accomplice to death row. Since Clyde saw for himself that Clarence was the ringleader and directly responsible for the death of his family, the distraught widower is left feeling betrayed by the legal system he trusted to help him.

Ten years later, Rupert’s death by lethal injection turns into a horrifying affair; someone switched the drugs, leaving Rupert to die in agony. Suspicion falls on Clarence, only for Clyde to spirit him away, paralyze him with a neurotoxin, and dismember him with a circular saw. As the prime suspect, he is arrested, confesses to the two deaths in exchange for a mattress in his cell, and is sent to prison. It is not long after that he informs Nick of the impending deaths of a number of key players in the New York judicial system. He murders his cellmate and is thrown into solitary confinement… and outside the bodies keep piling up, as Nick races to stop these apparently impossible crimes…

I was intrigued by the premise of the “impossible crime”, a string of murders being committed by a man locked in a cell – a reverse locked-room mystery, in a way. The deaths are ingeniously planned and executed, and the level of planning that must have been involved would make Jigsaw himself tip his hat in respect. Clyde uses every resource he has available to enact his plan, just to make a statement about a broken legal system, and while it may seem extreme at times (seriously – sending the DVD of Clarence’s torture to Nick’s young daughter?! Seriously?!), Clyde has good reason to believe that this is the only way he would be heard.

Gerard Butler is excellent as the traumatized father and husband whose grief turns to ice-cold, calculating rage, and as more of his background is uncovered turns out to be the most badass family man ever. Jaime Foxx was also excellent as the prosecutor who is forced – in the most brutal lessons possible – to re-examine his own tendency to let “maybe” cases slide in favor of slam dunks. The interplay between Foxx and Butler are excellent – mind games within mind games, traps within puzzles with a chewy core of a single man pushed too far. You get the sense that Clyde was genuinely a good man trying to do the right thing, only to have the rug yanked out from under him at exactly the wrong moment. There are few innocents in the cast, though, and plenty of blame to go around for the failure that sets things off.

Law Abiding Citizen is an engaging, cerebral thriller with enough layers and twists to keep the viewer guessing. If you like engaging mysteries and thrilling revenge tales, by all means watch this movie, and get ready to be challenged.