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The Shawshank Redemption

For many film goers, the best film of 1994 was The Shawshank Redemption. a sweeping and emotionally charged epic that weaves multiple stories of corruption, friendship, survival, and loyalty and sets all these stories behind prison walls without ever making the story feel claustrophobic.

Based on a novel by Stephen King called "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption", this is the story of Andy Dufrane (Tim Robbins), the vice president of a bank who is convicted of the murder of his wife and her lover, sentenced to two life sentences for each of his victims and, in 1947, is sent to Shawshank, a huge prison where Andy learns how to survive, make friends, and even make improvements to the facility, primarily through the use of his own brains and education and his friendship with another lifer in the facility named Red (Morgan Freeman).

Director and screenwriter Frank Darabont has created a textbook in cinematic storytelling here that is centered around a character who is not bathed in an angelic glow from the beginning. Our first glance at Andy sees him getting drunk and loading a gun with bullets, scenes that are juxtaposed with a prosecuting attorney (Jeffrey DeMunn) putting the final nails in Andy's coffin, as it were. It's not until Andy arrives in Shawshank and confronts Red about getting him that tiny little hammer that we know Andy is innocent. It is only a couple of months after his arrival in Shawshank that Andy actually begins planning his escape only no one realizes it.

We don't realize it because Andy's exterior survival mode not only finds him a way out of the laundry room and as the right hand man to the warden (Bob Gunton). We can't help but wish for a way out for Andy as he begins to think of the men around him and how he can help and educate them as well. I love Andy's tireless pursuit of the state for funds to improve the prison library, beautifully climaxed by Andy broadcasting that operatic recording all over the prison yard and watching every single man in the place be mesmerized by it. We also get a look at the other side of Andy's situation with the heartbreaking subplot of Brooks (James Whitmore), a lifelong con who actually gets released and is absolutely terrified about it...a man who has spent so much of his life on the inside that being a free man is something he can't even conceive.

Darabont has spared nothing in bringing this sprawling epic to the screen, taking time to introduce us to all the characters who are a part of Andy's story, never forgetting that it's Andy's story and because of the way he tells the story, the viewer will only be satisfied with one conclusion to this story. Darabont gets some excellent performances from his cast...Tim Robbins is a perfect Andy, another character where that baby face of his works to such great advantage and Morgan Freeman's Oscar nominated work as Red is so good that you almost forget that Freeman is a much more intelligence screen presence than this character. Bob Gunton just drips evil as the warden as does Clancy Brown as the head corrections officer. William Sadler, Gil Bellows, and Mark Rolston also score in supporting roles. The film also deserves nods for cinematography, film editing, sound, and a lush musical score that serves the story effectively, but most of all, this film is a tribute to the artistry of Frank Darabont. A must for all cinema purists.