"I've done some things in my life I'm not proud
but this is the first time I've ever felt in real danger of hell."
In his book Danse Macabre, Stephen King says the most difficult horror scene to write is the one where you reveal the monster. If you show people a ten foot monster, they say "Well, at least it wasn't a 100 foot monster." If you show them a hundred foot monster, they say "Well, at least it wasn't a 1000 foot monster." He solves that problem in The Green Mile by having two very human monsters who turn out to be only part of the story. The real monster is the system that has declared an innocent man must die.
Tom Hanks is Paul Edgecomb, a prison guard on The Green Mile, the prison building that houses men on their way to death row. The most obnoxious criminal is on the wrong side of the bars. Percy Wetmore (Doug Hutchinson) an evil little guard, never misses a chance to hurt or humiliate the prisoners. We keep waiting for justice to be meted out to him, but it doesn't happen, and it doesn't happen, and it doesn't happen again. When it finally does happen it's unexpected, and his fate is worse than what we had wished for. It's very satisfying.
There are several different stories going on here, all intertwined. The primary tale is about John Coffey, a giant of a man with the timid soul of a child. Coffey has a gift for healing, which causes Paul to question his guilt. Later Paul's suspicions are confirmed, and he's torn between doing his job and stopping the execution, a decision made more difficult by Coffey's desire to die.
Although the movie lasts for three hours, its moves along at just about the right speed, and doesn't seem overly long, although it could have been trimmed a little.
Just when we think the film is over, that all the stories have been told and everything has been wrapped up and worked out, we're hit with an extra zinger, an unexpected Twilight Zoney ending that adds a nice little twinge of creepiness to the whole movie.
Very few movies are worth three hours of our time. This one is.
© 2001 Dave Hitt