Frank Darabont/USA/1995; R4 (2-disc SE)
Warner Bros, NZ$29.95 | Reviewed by John Spry

WHAT HAPPENS when one of the most popular authors of all time meets a writer/director willing to take a chance on a story and transform it from one medium to another? The answer can be found in the 1995 film The Shawshank Redemption, a film that initially, commercially failed but now lives and thrives in the secondary markets of firstly video, and now thanks to Warner Bros., on DVD.

Shawshank marked the arrival of writer/director Frank Darabont, who in 1999 would adapt another King work and direct the adaptation of the Tom Hanks vehicle The Green Mile (1999). It also marked the re-emergence of Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins, both of whom have since been awarded Best Supporting Oscars in the past two years for two Clint Eastwood directed films, Mystic River (2003) and Million Dollar Baby (2004). In my mind it was The Shawshank Redemption that helped give these two actors the weight required in more serious and concentrated roles that would follow, as well as placing them within a large group of actors and forcing them to both stand apart from the larger group in the same text.

The plot that drives the film is standard Hollywood fair and operates like any good prison drama, and almost feels at certain points like a melodrama, although not to the extent of say a Douglas Sirk film. In fact, as far as genre films are constructed this works along similar narrative lines of any good prison film and of course as such features a highly inventive jail break involving one of the main characters, played by Tim Robbins. The plot centers on Andy Dufresne, a simple accountant who has been sentenced to life in prison for supposedly murdering his wife and her lover whilst in bed together. Whilst in prison Andy develops a relationship with another convict, Red, who is also narrating the film and outlining the different story strands involved in the film. In the prison (and the film), time moves slowly and this passage of time is shown in long intervals over many years. As viewers we witness all of the inmates, guards and Warden growing older (and sometimes wiser) as their slim dark features turn plump (although not in all cases) and grey. As the film progresses we learn that the Warden is a crook himself and with Andy's skills in the commercial area he makes huge profits in the not so legal side of contracting prison labour. Over the intervening years, the Warden trusts Andy more and more to the point where the Warden helps (unknowingly of course) with Andy's eventual escape. In terms of Morgan Freeman's character Red, we see a man who is truly remorseful for his crime, (he was convicted of murder) and over the course of twenty-plus years we witness parole board after parole board deny his freedom, possibly based on racial motives. As Andy and Red start trusting each other implicitly, Andy tells of a place where both men can be safe, and once eventually granted parole, Red as an old man seeks Andy out. They eventually meet and seem that they weill spend a well-earned retirement in an isolated locale together.

The direction of the film is handled well and there is not much real camera movement or overtly 'flashy' moves as can occur with first time directors attempting to show as much technique as possible in their debut feature. Frank Darabont seems comfortable in bathing in truly great actors performing the words he has put to page. What Darabont has used as a technique in the film is a slow close-up when a character has a moment of revelation that is revealed to others in a given scene – an example is the moment Red is making a statement to the parole board towards the the end of the film and he explains his feelings about his crime. This scene is shot with a very slow close-up of Red and helps to elucidate a moment of truthfulness and clarity.

In contrast to the direction of the film, the cinematography is stunning and visually original in what has become a signature of the Director of Photography, Roger Deakins. Much like his work on the Ron Howard-directed A Beautiful Mind (2001) and the Coen Brothers' The Man Who Wasn't There (2001), Deakins shows true moments that rival any other DoP working today or in the past. The colors are vibrant whilst the interior prison scenes generate a foreboding that has existed on screen before, but coupled with the performance of the actors gives the impression of true originality.

In terms of the film as a text it has a certain sentimentality at its core and an ethereal quality that can exist in certain narratives. There is certainly a strong theme of redemption and certain happiness in knowing that what goes around comes around. This is certainly true for most characters in the film, especially Red and less so for Andy as it turns out he really is the only innocent prisoner in Shawshank.

THIS EDITION of the DVD (not to be confused with an earlier edition that is a single-disc and has very little special features) is comprehensive in the special features department and should keep any fan of the source material entertained for hours.

The film is presented in the widescreen aspect ratio (1.85:1). The Extra Material as stated is in depth and of the many special features available, it is the broadcast episode of The Charlie Rose Show, devoted to the 10th anniversary of the film that is possibly the best part of the bonus disc. This episode features Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman and Frank Darabont conversing frankly about the making of the film, acting, directing, character development and many more subjects that a fan of the film would like to be informed on. The rest of the special features offer an interesting view of the film and the director's commentary is informative and it is quite obvious that Darabont has a close affinity with his film.