Friday, March 5, 2010

Friday Night at the Oscars Week 9 - The Green Mile

I dig prison stories. 

Before your mind wanders away, I'm not talking about Chained Heat or The Big Doll House, although those movies do have certain...attributes one can enjoy.  Throw a bunch of characters in cells and I'm riveted.  Something about the confined quarters and hatred leads to good storytelling.  Rely on tight scripting and actors performing at a high level , and in the case of OZ, lots of murder and wang, to hold our attention and you've got something good on your hands.  There is not much room for Whiz-Bang Michael Bay explosions when the story is set in a series of cells and at most a prison yard.

Case in point, The Green Mile.  Directed by Frank Darabont, adapted from the Stephen King novel.  And I'm sorry Mr. King, as good as your book was, the movie trumps it.  (I do, however, pay respect to your giant brass balls for publishing it as a serial.)  I loved the book as I read it, but after watching the movie, no amount of character description can get me to see anyone other than Michael Clark Duncan as John Coffey, like the drink, only not spelled the same.  I wish I had the movie in front of me as I wrote this, so I could give proper credit to the casting director, who filled this movie with amazing actors. 

For starters, you've got Tom Hanks as the lead prison guard, Paul Edgecomb.  At this point in his career, Hanks was nominated for everything.  Surprisingly, he wasn't nominated here, which is a shame, as I feel this was some of the strongest acting of his career.  I've never had a UTI as badly as he had, and based on his performance in the water closet, I hope I never do. 

Supporting Hanks on the Mile was character actor David Morse.  It's hard to think of the movies he's been in, but you'd surely recognize him.  He's one of "those" guys whose name you might not remember, but his performance stays with you.  He's "Brutal" Howell, the muscle on the row.  Most of the film he's a rather quiet guy, but the few times he becomes upset, you can see whre he got the nickname.

Barry Pepper is the new guy, Dean Stanton.  Pepper wasn't given as much as Hanks or Morse, but those haunting eyes of his do a lot for him.  Watch as he tries to hold it together during an execution, and wonder whatever the hell happened to him since then.  After this and Saving Private Ryan, I expected big things from this guy.  Did Battlefield Earth destroy his career along with those braincells I lost while watching it?

Not all the guards are saints and stand up guys.  One such person, the aptly named Percy Wetmore, perhaps belonged on the other side of the bars.  Played with the oily slickness of an environment disaster, Doug Hutchinson made the most of every scene he was in.  You couldn't help but hate the guy, and routed for him to get exactly what he deserved.

But nobody watches prison dramas for the guards.  It's all about the prisoners, and this film delivers with an incredibly eclectic cast.

I already mentioned him, but Michael Clarke Duncan stole the show as John Coffey. He'd had some bit parts before this, but he announced himself in a big big way with this role as the gentle giant/murderer and rapist of two girls.  His innocence would never have been doubted by me, as he was nothing but tender with every other person in the movie, except a few notable exceptions. 

One of those exceptions was "Wild Bill" Wharton, played buy another unbelievably underrated character actor Sam Rockwell.  He was the jailhouse wildcard, and he went aptly crazy with the role, being strangely likable, but downright nasty at the same time.

Add to these fellows a cast that included Michael Jeter, Graham Greene, Bonnie Hunt, Patricia Clarkson, Jeffrey DeMunn, James Cromwell and the always amazing Harry Dean Stanton, and you can understand why this film was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award.  (Which it lost to the cast of American Beauty.  They were a solid cast, but I'm sorry, Thora Birch's breasts were not as good as Michael Clark Duncan's.)

The Green Mile was nominated for four Academy Awards.
Best Supporting Actor - Michael Clarke Duncan
Best Sound
Best Adapted Screenplay
Best Picture.

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