Rating: 9.5 out of 10
If you haven’t heard of this movie, what exactly have you been doing!? It’s one of the all-time classics, that has stood the test of time while other pretenders have fallen by the wayside. The Shawshank Redemption doesn't just crop in up in a few people’s must watch lists; it’s in nearly everybody’s, despite failing to pick up many awards.
So what’s all the fuss about?
Well, the movie opens in 1947 with banker Andy Dufresne being convicted of the murder of his wife and her lover, in spite of his continual protests of innocence. He is sentenced to serve two consecutive life sentences in Shawshank State Penitentiary, a place where spending two consecutive minutes would break most people.
Andy survives his first night in the brutal prison, but not without suffering assault from a prison gang and watching the captain of the guards, Byron Hadley, savagely beat another inmate. Andy does manage to quickly become firm friends with Ellis Redding, played by Morgan Freeman, who smuggles contraband into the prison for fellow inmates. For Andy, Ellis, nicknamed Red, secures a tiny rock hammer and a large poster of Rita Hayworth.
Two years after arriving at Shawshank, Andy overhears the captain of the guards complaining about being heavily taxed on a recent inheritance. Risking becoming a victim of Hadley’s brutal attacks, Andy offers to legally protect the money from taxation, to which Hadley agrees. But in Shawshank, there is always someone looking to hurt you and Andy is nearly killed by a prison gang attack on him. Hadley then steps in, retaliating by beating the ringleader of the gang, who is then sent to another prison. In contrast, Andy is sent to help out in the prison library and is never attacked again.
While working in the library, Andy becomes close friends with the quirky Brooks Hatlen, who has been the prison librarian for as long as anyone can remember. Andy’s new job is not as straightforward as organising books though; it is a front for him to begin managing the finances of prison employees, including Warden Norton himself.
In 1954, Brook’s parole appeal is successful and he is released back into the world. However, it is a world that has changed beyond recognition in the fifty years that he has spent locked up inside Shawshank. The ageing ex-librarian finds himself unable to cope with this new world. After scratching his name into the roof of his halfway house room, he unfastens his belt, climbs onto a stool, ties his belt to the ceiling, wraps it round his neck, and ends his life.
Ten years after the tragic departure of Brooks Hatlen, Warden Norton begins exploiting prison labour for public work schemes, profiting and receiving hefty kickbacks for his troubles. Andy duly launders the money for him under the name Randall Stephens. Soon afterwards, a new prisoner, Tommy Williams is thrown into Shawshank as a serial offender of burglary, before making his way into Andy and Red’s circle of friends. He then reveals that an inmate in another prison had claimed responsibility for murdering Andy’s wife and lover – the crimes that Andy was convicted for.
Andy rushes to the Warden with this new information, hoping that he can finally be free from the horrors of Shawshank. The Warden refuses to listen and even sends Andy to solitary confinement after he threatens to stop laundering his money. Whilst Andy rots in solitary, the Warden arranges for Tommy to be killed by Captain Hadley, who makes it appear as if he was attempting to escape.
After two months in the hell of solitary confinement, Andy still refuses to launder money from the Warden’s corrupt work schemes. The Warden breaks him though, threatening to burn down Andy’s beloved library and throw Andy to the prison gangs who would doubtless kill him. Red then becomes worried about Andy after he learns that Andy has procured six feet of rope from another inmate. At roll call the next morning, the guards are shocked by what they see in Andy’s cell.
And that’s where this plot synopsis ends. It is not the end of the movie; there are still a fair few twists and turns before the eventual conclusion, but it really is worth watching the movie to find out what they are, rather than simply reading a brief summary that cannot possibly cover all the exquisite details.
The Shawshank Redemption is a classic movie, and rightly so. It tugs at a myriad of different emotions throughout, from hope to despair and everything between. It might not be an all action thriller, but it doesn’t need the incessant explosions and shootouts that some movies rely so heavily upon. What action there is is excellently played out by a small cast who excel in all departments.
As always, Morgan Freeman, whose iconic voice provides a narration to the film, is terrific, as is Tim Robbins, who plays Andy. Frank Darabont, the director must also be recognised as having played a major role in creating one of the finest films of all time. Currently, The Shawshank Redemption sits top of the IMDB list of the best movies of all time. Not too bad for a movie whose poster was able to tout only “Two thumbs up”.