Classic Intel: The Shawshank Redemption - DVD Review

'from the moment you realise you're going to spend just over two hours listening to Morgan Freeman's gently lilting narration, to the Raquel Welch reveal, it draws you in to its story like a hug from a slightly overweight relative'

The Shawshank Redemption has taken a while to justify receiving full marks from me. I think the reason for that is in no small part due to IMDb Top 250, arguably the most definitive list available to measure public opinion in relation to films. There are many problems with the IMDb chart. For instance, it is made by, for and of the Internet generation, meaning films like The Dark Knight enjoy a higher ranking than Casablanca and Citizen Kane, both of which, if the list is to be believed, have been seen by less people.

Shawshank sits atop the list in pole position, sharing an equal rating (9.1) only with The Godfather, which is relegated to second on account of having less votes. For my money Shawshank doesn't deserve to be there and for this reason, the film's always grated me the wrong way; in a child like manner that I probably should have grown out of years ago, I couldn't believe that Shawshank dared to keep favourites like Coppola's epic, The Empire Strikes Back and others off the top spot.

Over time though, like the rest of the population, I've grown to love Shawshank. It's hard not to. From the moment you realise you're going to spend just over two hours listening to Morgan Freeman's gently lilting narration, to the Raquel Welch reveal, it draws you in to its story like a hug from a slightly overweight relative and doesn't let you leave until it's made sure you're entirely, beautifully, happy.

Shawshank has the big gestures (the re-tarring of the rooftop, the poster motif, Tim Robbins' Andy playing classical music to the cons) but it also does the minutiae explosively well. Take Brooks (James Whitmore) for example. In any other film he'd be the sage old con that spouts a bit of wise advice and then probably shuffles off this mortal coil at some point, manipulating an unearned emotional response from the audience in the process. Here though, he's a character. Just like everyone else in the prison he has fears and loves, he acts tenderly and irrationally; he lives through others and others through him. Going to an even smaller level, Frank Darabont leaves nothing to chance. Look at Brooks arriving at the halfway house. The woman who shows him to his rooms can't even look at him as she gives him the key. How can he, a once respected and noble man, adapt to live in an outside world that treats him with such neglect and abandon?

The story in the end though relies on Andy and Red, a double act perfectly cast and wonderfully played by Robbins and Freeman. Again, just like Brooks, these are characters with idiosyncrasies so deep you could write a three volume book on each of them. Darabont avoids the clich├ęd tale of Andy winning Red's trust (although the roof scene is obviously a part of it), instead opting for something more subtle: from the moment Freeman starts narrating, we feel like these two have been friends for a life time. It's their story to grow and grow it they do, both feeding off each other like the titanic screen presences they are, never forgetting that their responsibility is ultimately to an audience who never feel anything but love for them.

Shawshank isn't the best film of all time but the public have spoken and on a list made by, for and of the Internet generation, it is something remarkable and refreshing that an old-school film with old-school values, performances and ideas, leads, whilst others follow.

Look further...

'a beautiful testament to the value of life, hope and friendship. I can’t remember the last time I cried this much during a film' - The Final Girl Project


  1. this is easily one of my favorite movies of all time. it's a crime robbins and freeman didn't get oscars for their performaces here.

  2. You're not the only one! Their performances are undeniably fantastic, it's just testament to how fantastic they both are as performers that you can't really call them 'career defining'.

  3. Nice review. By the way, I noticed you just started following my blog (Between the Seats). Thanks! The news made me check out your site, Film Intel. It's good stuff. I think I'll be checking in regularly.

  4. Hi Edgar, yeah I saw you had been added to the LAMB and started following you - GREAT blog name by the way! Loved it when I read it the first time. Looking forward to reading some more of your stuff.

  5. Gareth Williams28 June 2011 at 12:45

    I have read a few of your reviews now, mostly the ones of films I enjoyed watching. I was particulalry curious to your thoughts on this film when I saw it on your index, and out of the reviews I have read so far this echoes closest to my opinions, especially your opening regarding the imdb top 250 list. A great review of a great movie.

  6. Cheers Gareth! Took me a while but yeah, it is an easy film to fall in love with, although the DVD copy I've got (which I suspect is a pretty early one) is an awful print. Need to invest in the Blu-ray.