The Shawshank Redemption isn’t a bad movie. Despite the negative things I’m about to say about it, I’d like to make it clear that I did enjoy it, for the most part, and that my ragging on it stems mostly from the overwhelming praise that I’ve seen it gather over the years. It’s currently the top movie on “IMDb’s Top 250”, ahead of many other classics. It’s just not that good.
The story follows two men who end up becoming friends. The first man has already been in prison a long time; we see him getting a parole rejection near the beginning of the film–these rejections continue throughout the film, giving us a time frame. This man’s name is Ellis “Red” Redding (Morgan Freeman), and he is also the narrator. Picking Morgan Freeman to narrate a film is always a good choice, I believe.
The second man is convicted of murdering his wife and the man she was cheating with. Supposedly, eight bullets–four a piece–were shot that night. Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is this man. He’s far more reserved than Red, keeping to himself with an icy cold demeanor. He’s innocent, he claims, as does everyone else at Shawshank State Penitentiary. And we believe them.
The reason we believe them is quite simple: Most of these people aren’t bad. At least, they don’t act that way. There are some, especially ones that the film identifies as “The Sisters”, who are not good. They’re clearly villains, while the majority of the characters in the film are decent. Some have issues, yes, but they act like respectable people. They even end up building a library in the prison. Some people even get their high school diplomas. Andy is at the center of all of this.
The entire film circulates around the two men mentioned above, and that’s just about it. Other characters are introduced, but they only become a focal point for a short time before they removed or, quite literally, killed off. Doing this lessens the impact these characters have. For instance, there is a librarian at the prison. He gets a few narration sequences, and then he is never heard from again. Drawing us away from the main story definitely hurts the final product.
There are other points in the story that are not all that interesting. For me, the dynamics in the prison are the most interesting parts. Seeing how Andy and Red fit in amongst the other prisoners, or how they deal with being stuck in jail for decades, these parts are fun to watch. Deviating from this even the slightest lessened my enjoyment a great deal.
I also had some problems with the supporting cast. Not the main cast–Freeman and Robbins do a great job, but the secondary actors. There isn’t any depth to their performances, and their characters are all one-note. They don’t interest or warrant intrigue, which makes their segments even less fun to watch.
Also holding the film back is the plot, which includes one moment that you will not see coming. Just one. The rest of the film is really predictable, with nothing surprising at all coming your way. It’s a good story, and it’s well-told, but it isn’t one that will blow you away with plot twists. That seems strange, with the film being an adaptation of a Stephen King novel. It also isn’t a horror film, something else that is surprising given the author of the source material.
In fact, The Shawshank Redemption isn’t scary at all. It’s not even thrilling or disturbing. It’s got many moments of joy and happiness throughout, and never once comes close to being frightening. This works in its favor, in some respects, as it means that the story doesn’t get lost in an attempt to frighten or thrill. It also works against it though, as, if you don’t care about the story, as I often didn’t, you don’t have anything else there. It’s a story focused film, and if it doesn’t grip you early on, you’ll end up not caring for its duration.
The Shawshank Redemption is an above-average prison drama, but not really much more than that. There are too many distractions throughout that contain moments where I just didn’t care in order for it to be better. I know that a lot of people really love it, and I’d like to ask them why that is. It didn’t feel special to me. Maybe it was my expectations that ruined it, or maybe the film just wasn’t magnificent after all. Regardless, I didn’t have as much fun with it as I hoped I would, and I can’t say it’s a “must watch” film. It’s worth watching, but not one you should scramble to find a copy of.