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Warner Home Video presents
The Green Mile (SE) (1999)

"You can't hide what's in your heart."
- John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan)

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: December 11, 2006

Stars: Tom Hanks, David Morse, Bonnie Hunt, Michael Clarke Duncan
Other Stars: James Cromwell, Michael Jeter, Graham Greene, Doug Hutchison, Sam Rockwell, Barry Pepper, Jeffrey DeMunn, Patricia Clarkson, Harry Dean Stanton
Director: Frank Darabont

MPAA Rating: R for violence, language and some sex-related material
Run Time: 03h:08m:24s
Release Date: November 14, 2006
UPC: 012569705975
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

If you can only think of the description "old fashioned" as a term of disparagement, The Green Mile is not the movie for you. It runs more than three hours, and it's not a film of great nuance—rather, our heartstrings are plucked most strenuously, and this is close to a Manichaean world, in which everyone is either Good or Bad. It's also an overt religious parable as well, sometimes just flat-out clumsily so. I admit to being a little skeptical of movies like this, for fear that they'll become treacly and relentlessly sentimental if not pretentious; but even the most hard of heart, if they hang in there, are likely to be won over by this naked morality tale.

With his second film, Frank Darabont here stakes claim to perhaps the most singular niche in filmmaking: he's the man to see for Stephen King period prison pictures, and as the extras indicate, he was won over by the story in spite of his first film, The Shawshank Redemption, not because of it. Nudge the story and the filmmaking style just a little bit, and you're in the world of flat-out parody—the differences between this and, for instance, O Brother Where Art Thou are crucial but frequently miniscule. Tom Hanks is our hero, Paul Edgecomb, a prison guard on death row in a penitentiary in the Deep South in 1935, and almost all of the action is confined to the ward of the film's title, given its name because of the green linoleum flooring. As in so many of his roles, Hanks plays a decent man in a hard world, and none of the storytellers are afraid to go for the sappy, so this story is about The Year That Changed My Life Forever.

The principal agent of that transformation is John Coffey, a hulking African American who takes up residence on death row due to his conviction for the brutal murder of two pretty little blond girls. We learn in short order that Coffey has some sort of mystical power—he can see into your soul, he can heal the sick, he can mete out the divine punishment that the wicked deserve. Michael Clarke Duncan really is kind of amazing in the role, this huge inarticulate man who takes on the world's sins; it's not just the initials of the character nor the halo that frequently appears around his head that make it clear that we're to take John Coffey as a Christ figure. But you can't help but think that the film traffics sort of dangerously in some racial stereotyping—this big lumbering black man suffers for your sins, but he can barely stutter out a sentence, making him the embodiment of one of the worst stock figures, what Spike Lee and others have referred to as the "magical negro."

Putting that aside, though, one of the principal points of Darabont's and King's efforts are that the green mile is a fiercely moral little community, and you need not be on the inside of one of the cells to be aligned with the forces of darkness. Doug Hutchison is oily and hateful as Percy Wetmore, the governor's nephew who pulled strings to become a prison guard just to watch them fry; more flat-out lunatic is Sam Rockwell as Wild Bill, an inmate who's looking to get a rise out of anybody at any time. James Cromwell is strong and moving as the prison warden, and Hanks gets great support from the men under his command, played by David Morse, Barry Pepper, and Jeffrey DeMunn.

Some of the actors seem to get lost rooting around in their accents, and everybody lays it on pretty thick with the whole Southern thing. (Popcorn may not suffice as you watch this, for you're likely to be hankering for a hunk of cornbread.) The film has a fascination with the procedural, as well—just how these executions were carried out, and what happens to the men on both sides of the bars in this strange and grim little platoon. They develop a startling intimacy, and given that almost the whole movie is set on death row, I don't think it's really giving anything away to relate that a number of those with whom we spend time go off to meet their maker; if you've given yourself over to the film, the sense of loss is palpable.

It's an incredibly handsome production, as well, one full of magnificent sunsets and sets distressed just so; even its most fierce admirers might have to give a little on the running time, though, unwisely drawn out by a framing story, showing us Paul sixty years after the fact, recounting the events to a new friend in a retirement home. At over three hours it's a natural for DVD, though, even if pausing it and watching it over a couple of nights may take away from the cumulative effect.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: A very strong transfer, rich with color; the cinematographic design is heavily saturated, and it's well served by its presentation here.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
English, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: The sound mix is dense, and frequently the music is laid on a little too thick, though the dispersal is well done on this 5.1 track, and the dialogue is audible throughout.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 53 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 TV Spots/Teasers
2 Deleted Scenes
2 Documentaries
3 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Frank Darabont
Packaging: Gladiator style 2-pack
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: This two-disc special edition supplants the previous release of the title on DVD, and there's a great deal here that merits your attention. The feature is split between the two discs, and director Frank Darabont, who sounds highly caffeinated, supplies one of the best commentary tracks I've heard in a while. He barely leaves a blank patch, and it's clear that this wasn't recorded in a single sitting; it was worth the effort, and includes details on the shoot and the actors, no shortage of discussion of Shawshank, peeks behind the curtain at the filmmaking process (e.g., how the crew made Duncan look so huge, eight inches taller than his actual height), and even film recommendations. Darabont goes meta, too, and drags the commentary producer onto the track to say hello; he even places a couple of phone calls to others who worked on the picture to get questions answered, and tells us about his cat, his working methods, and "Steve" King's birthday parties.

Disc One also includes two deleted scenes (03m:38s), not much for a movie of this length, and Darabont provides commentary on these as well. Duncan's screen test (08m:25s) shows why he landed the part; and makeup tests (05m:29s) on Hanks demonstrate why ultimately an older actor was hired to play Paul in the framing story. Darabont, producer David Valdes and storyboard artist Bill Sienkowicz talk us through The Teaser Trailer: A Case Study (06m:45s), about how the teaser was produced, then ultimately discarded. That teaser and an original trailer are here, too.

On Disc Two, there's Walking the Mile (25m:28s), a making-of piece from the film's theatrical release—there's not much insight here, really, but there are on-set interviews with Darabont, King, Valdes, and most of the principal cast members; most interesting here are brief snippets of rehearsal footage. Miracles and Mystery: Creating The Green Mile (01h:42m:46s), is a feature-length, six-part documentary produced for this DVD edition, starting with a look at King's place in literary history (he's compared favorably to Dickens and Mark Twain) and at Darabont as probably his best film adaptor to date. We see the actors as a tightly knit fraternity—here Hanks sports his Da Vinci Code mullet, and it's especially nice to see Dabbs Greer, who plays old Paul. Featured prominently as well are production designer Terrence Marsh, cinematographer David Tattersall, and costume designer Karyn Wagner; finally there are looks at the film's use of special effects and at the screen magic that went into bringing Mr. Jingles, the mouse mascot of the mile, to life. There's a whole lot of stuff here, and lots of it is good, but if you wade through it all, you'll find, perhaps inevitably, lots of repetition—with the commentary track and the two accompanying documentaries, some of the same shopworn anecdotes are spun out for us, close to verbatim, three times each.

Extras Grade: A+


Final Comments

Undeniably and deliberately corny, The Green Mile is nonetheless, if you'll allow it to be, deeply affecting. It's a very handsomely made film, and finally gets the lavish DVD presentation it deserves.


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