Thursday, June 29, 2017

Coffey Break

Films: The Green Mile
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

What can you say about Frank Darabont? He has directed four theatrical releases. Of those four theatrical releases, three are based on Stephen King stories, and two of them have been nominated for Best Picture. Darabont owes Stephen King a massive debt, and that’s true in the other direction as well. Two of best adaptations of King’s work are those two aforementioned films--The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. The thing that has prevented me from watching The Green Mile before today is length more than anything; it clocks in at just north of three hours.

This is going to be one of those movies told in flashback. In the film’s present, we meet Paul Edgecomb (Dabbs Greer in this incarnation), an old man who lives in a retirement home. He likes going on walks by himself and seems to know everyone in the home well. One day, while sitting in the television room, the channel gets flipped to a showing of Top Hat, and Paul breaks down. He is led out of the room by his friend Elaine (Eve Brent), and then proceeds to explain to her why the movie triggered such a reaction in him.

Flashback to the Great Depression, where Paul Edgecomb (now played by Tom Hanks) works as a prison guard in Louisiana. Specifically, he is in charge of death row, and is assisted by fellow guards Harry Terwilliger (Jeffrey DeMunn), Brutus “Brutal” Howell (David Morse), and Dean Stanton (Barry Pepper). Death row is also cursed with Percy Wetmore (Doug Hutchison), who is cruel and vindictive, but has his position by virtue of being the nephew of the governor’s wife. None of the rest of the guards like Percy and would prefer not to tolerate him, but know that they must if they wish to save their jobs.

There are two things that need to be known at the start of the massive flashback. The first is that Paul is suffering from a terrible urinary tract infection (yes, this is relevant). The second is that as the story begins, death row gets a new inmate. This is John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan), a huge man with the bad fortune of being black in Louisiana during the Great Depression. John has been charged and convicted of murdering two white children, which is going to be a guarantee of ending up in the chair in that time and place. This death row is nicknamed “The Green Mile” because of the color of the floor tiles rather than the traditional nickname of “The Last Mile.” Other inmates on the mile include Bitterbuck (Graham Greene) and Eduard Delacroix (Michael Jeter). Eventually, they also are cursed with the presence of “Wild Bill” Wharton (Sam Rockwell).

Here’s the thing: John Coffey is innocent, and this soon becomes evident. In fact, Coffey is something akin to a miracle healer. At one point, seeing Paul in extreme pain because of his bladder infection, he (there’s no delicate way to put this) grabs his crotch and removes the infection, which then becomes a cloud of gnat-like insects that fly out of John’s mouth. This becomes important twice more. Once, when Percy kills Eduard’s pet mouse Mr. Jingles and again when the guards conspire to save the life of Melinda Moores (Patricia Clarkson), wife of prison warden Hal Moores (James Cromwell).

There’s actually a lot going on here, and the film is a very accurate version of King’s serial novel. As such, it includes pretty much the entire story. It also has a cast to absolutely kill or die for. Everyone in the cast is just about perfect in the roles. I’d have loved to have seen more of Patricia Clarkson, who I love in general and who needs to be in more movies. has a series of videos called After Hours that investigates various pop culture phenomena. One video goes into specific things that actors seem to do a lot in their movies, like Tom Cruise sprinting everywhere. They bring up the fact that Tom Hanks seems to pee a lot in his films. Seriously, the first hour or so of the movie is very much concerned with the fact that Tom Hanks can’t pee and we see him pee multiple times.

And you know what? I don’t really care. The Green Mile is top-3 for Stephen King adaptations along with Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me. Sorry, The Shining, you can go scratch. You might claw into the top five. It all works, even the fantasy elements that shouldn’t work in a film like this. It’s a damn fine story and a damn fine adaptation.

Michael Clarke Duncan and Michael Jeter, you were taken too damn soon, and this movie is proof.

Why to watch The Green Mile: A cast to die for.
Why not to watch: Tom Hanks likes making the audience watch him pee.


  1. I put off watching this for exactly the same reason, plus being under the impression it was a horror film because of the Stephen King connection, but really found much of worth in it when I finally got around to it.

    I don't think I'd go running back to watch again, it really could have been trimmed by at least 45 minutes, but the acting was superior and the story involving.

    1. I'm not surprised by the level of acting, really. It's such a deep cast all the way through.

      But yes, there are things here that could be trimmed out. Getting this down to 2:30 or 2:15 would make it a lot more accessible.

  2. I am also a fan of this film and the book. I think the urinary tract infection plotline is most clever. Also, when Hanks is finally able to pee without discomfort, it is one of the best moments of the film. I'm pretty sure I've never made the previous statement about any other movie.

    1. It is notable when one of the more memorable moments is a guy having a pee.