The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Prison Film, Buddy Film, Escape Film  |   Release Date - Sep 23, 1994 (USA - Limited), Oct 7, 1994 (USA - Expanding)  |   Run Time - 142 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Dan Jardine

Adapted from a Stephen King novella, The Shawshank Redemption takes a prison drama and twists it into a fascinating existential treatise on how to approach the business of day-to-day life in the face of a desperately Sisyphian reality. As the film's signature line suggests, "Get busy livin' or get busy dyin'." Filmed on location in an Ohio prison, the film occasionally lapses into familiar formulas and well-known stereotypes of the prison-drama genre, but overcomes them due in no small part to a pair of transcendent performances by Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins. Director Frank Darabont and cinematographer Roger Deakins (a Coen brothers collaborator) recreate the drudgery and hopelessness of prison life in both the look and the details of dreary rituals of daily life. Spanning twenty years in the lives of its protagonists, Darabont's screenplay and direction allow us the luxury of getting to know these men -- hardened criminals, with little hope for the future -- through a series of quietly captivating scenes that slowly build atmosphere and tension without sacrificing characterization and thematic integrity. A critical success but a box office failure when it was first released, the film was nominated for seven Oscars, but won nary a one. Only when Shawshank was released on video and began running repeatedly on cable did it steadily garner full-fledged public reverence.