Based on a novel by Stephen King, The Green Mile focuses on the experiences Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) has while working as a prison guard on a death row block in Louisiana during the depression. He’s a more soft spoken man than you expect to find in this line of work and the way he approaches his job is not as a cliche prison guard. He treats The Mile just as he would an intensive care ward in a hospital; firmly, but with a sense of calm serenity.
The new guy, Percy (Doug Hutchison), is a terrible addition to The Mile’s team. He got the job through family connections and only wants to watch a prisoner “cook” up close. Percy is a small guy who tries to make himself look tougher by instigating conflict whenever possible. We love to hate him.
When a new inmate is brought to The Mile, Percy ushers him, annoyingly calling out, “Dead man walking.” The inmate in tow is John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan), a huge black man accused of raping and murdering two little white girls. I’d like to think that the bigger the prisoner, the louder Percy tries to be. Though Coffey’s size and build are threatening, he is surprisingly meek. Not many men on death row ask to keep the lights on or admit to being afraid of the dark.
Other prisoners waiting for their execution are Eduard Delacroix (Michael Jeter) and ‘Wild Bill’ Wharton (Sam Rockwell). Eduard, usually called Del, is grungy looking Cajun man who speaks French now and then. He finds a mouse, names it Mr. Jingles and trains him to fetch a spool, becoming very attached to the creature. His execution is the most horrifying scene in the film. Wild Bill is a young man who’s antics are on the verge of psychotic, including pissing on the warden as he passes his cell. His entrance to The Mile may be one of the best tricks he puled off in his short life.
Within the world of figuring out each prisoner, getting to know them in their last chapter in life and then executing them, comes a tale of life’s mysteries, healing and forgiveness. Things get a little supernatural, but it does not affect the southern 1930’s feel.
While it took me weeks of spare time between summer jobs to read The Green Mile, the three hours that encompass the film feel more drawn out. To be clear, I had watched the film once a few years before reading the novel and then again just recently for this review. My feelings about the pacing of each medium have remained consistent. It really doesn’t bother me that the film is long and keeps a slow, thoughtful pace, it’s needed just to get the story across well. Simply, the novel was something I could enjoy savoring and taking slow, especially after a long day’s work in the summer heat. The film could be just as satisfying in a gulp. That being said, I encourage everyone to check out both the film and the book, maybe you’ll see things differently.
“I’ve done some things in my life I’m not proud of, but this is the first time I’ve ever felt in real danger of hell.”