The Shawshank Redemption

Year: 1994
Production Co: Castle Rock Entertainment
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Director: Frank Darabont
Writer: Frank Darabont/Stephen King
Cast: Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton, Clancy Brown, William Sadler

When a lot of people think of the phenomenon of movies not really coming to life until they come out on DVD, most people think of Office Space.

The situation of a movie coming into its own in other media is actually a lot older, Plan 9 From Outer Space mostly lost on its release only to be resurrected (pardon the pun) by rabid cult horror fans when it appeared on TV in the 60s, long after Ed Wood was dead and gone.

But of those films that have been given a new lease on life by TV, DVD or other media, few have arisen so far as this movie based on a Stephen King short story. After a theatrical run that barely cracked the $25m budget, it's now a regular feature on Best Movie Ever lists the world over.

At the time it was (criminally, many say) overshadowed by Forrest Gump, which staged a ram raid on the Oscars and took the lion's share of the awards-season box office.

Looking back, it's hard to say just what's so good about it. There are no special effects, no avant-garde subtexts, the direction by King regular Frank Darabont un-showy and straight laced.

Perhaps it was the perennial story of the innocent man condemned, and the revenge he exacts tasting so sweet. Andy Dufresne (Robbins) never throws a punch and hardly utters a word in a raised voice. He's the one the veteran prisoners expect to crack the first night when they play their games taunting the new inmates to see who breaks down first.

But Dufresne is impossible to read. He's quiet, keeps to himself, takes beatings from the feared gang of rapist thugs who stalk the walls of Shawshank and slowly builds a genuine friendship with Redding (Freeman), a man he 'understands knows how to get things'.

Unlike so many cinematic heroes, Dufresne uses his brain to get ahead. He gets in the good graces of the guards, led by the fearsome Hadley (Brown) and the icy warden (Gunton), either of which could snap Andy like a twig if desired.

Over the course of almost 20 years Andy does their taxes, advises on their investments and keeps to himself, occasionally breaking out to bring bursts of hope to the other men, most of whom have long lost their souls and humanity.

But the entire time he has a quiet agenda hidden away that he enacts one stormy night that must be one of the most satisfying in cinema history, his plan executing itself long after Andy's gone.

Maybe the true strength of the film is in the characters, like so many films and their makers crow about when we all know we're there for the giant robots or lightsabre fights. Maybe it's the way it says so much about so many things and makes it all look easy.

There've been few more successful adaptations of Stephen king's work that were also expansions, and all those fanboys with it firmly at the top of their lists aren't far wrong.

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