The Green Mile

on December 10, 1999 by Kim Williamson
   There was once a USC film student who set himself the onerous task of adapting into script form the most difficult but deserving novel he'd ever encountered, that being Thomas Pynchon's "Gravity's Rainbow." In more peculiar fashion, Hollywood types often seem wont to set themselves the onerous task of adapting the worst novels mankind has ever encountered, those being from the hands of horrormeister Stephen King. Given that what Pynchon is to crafting narrative symbolism King is to banging on an Olivetti, an observer can only marvel that one man--filmmaker Frank Darabont--has inflicted this anguish on himself not only once, with the success d'estime "The Shawshank Redemption," but now twice, with the similarly successful "The Green Mile," like the former a prison movie, and like the former from Castle Rock. (Even greater self-infliction, that production company recently signed screenwriter William Goldman-who handled King's aptly titled "Misery" for it-to script its seventh King adaptation, "Hearts in Atlantis.")
   It's uncertain whether Darabont, who seems incapable of putting onscreen any sequence that is not captivating (which is a blessing, given his favored long running times, and specifically here his willingness to spend perhaps half an hour of cumulative screen time detailing the life and antics of a small mouse), should receive an Oscar for his work here, or instead a humanitarian award, for making drivel play like a dream for moviegoers. And a dream it is, beginning dark and ending in light, as it tells the 1930s-set story of a down-South Death Row prison guard, Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks), who encounters in the person of a giant black inmate, the condemned John Coffey ("Bulworth's" Michael Clarke Duncan), a gift from God: the ability to heal any malady, however desperate, by the simple laying on of hands. Cured first of an uncomfortable condition by Coffey, Edgecomb finds himself in the end cured of a condition of soul as dank as seem the cells and certain of the other inhabitants with which the guard spends his days. Even then, though, Edgecomb finds, there is a cost.
   The supporting cast, wealthy as it is (a sign of Darabont's want-to-work-with standing in the creative community), provides fine accompaniment to Hanks, who manages to meld the beloved everyman personality that seems to come so naturally to him with the much-less-natural persona of a King character. The studio movie that received the strongest audience response from industry attendees at this October's ShowEast, and an obvious holiday choice for that immense moviegoing public that loves seeing Tom Hanks onscreen, "The Green Mile" still suffers from lingering touches of Kingitis, the cures for which would be beyond even the magic of a John Coffey--or a Frank Darabont. After reading a King novel, a reader might tend to want to take a shower; after seeing Darabont's "The Green Mile," a moviegoer might want instead to go to church--but only after taking a shower. There is grace gleaming for the eyes, but there is also remaining about the nose the stench of a miasmal humanity. Starring Tom Hanks, David Morse, Michael Clarke Duncan, Doug Hutchison, Bonnie Hunt, Michael Jeter, James Cromwell, Sam Rockwell, Graham Greene, Patricia Clarkson, Harry Dean Stanton and Gary Sinise. Directed and written by Frank Darabont. Produced by Frank Darabont and David Valdes. A Warner Bros. release. Drama. Rated R for violence, language and some sex-related material. Running time: 182 min
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