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On Sept. 23, 1994, after a premiere at the Toronto film fest, The Shawshank Redemption hit theaters nationwide. The Morgan Freeman film eventually nabbed seven Oscar nominations. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below:
Castle Rock has tapped into the wellspring of yet another Stephen King novella, from the same collection as Stand by Me. While it seems unlikely that this well-wrought film about hope and friendship in a maximum security prison will do Stand by Me-level business, The Shawshank Redemption should appeal to a mature audience. The marketing challenge will be to lure a mainstream audience to this dark drama starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman with, to boot, an enigmatic title.
Covering a span of time from 1946 to 1967, Shawshank focuses on the plight of a Maine banker, Andy Dufresne (Robbins), sentenced to two life terms for the murder of his wife and lover. Laconic and a bit chilly, Andy is somewhat of an outcast among the uneducated, macho thugs who make up the main brunt of the prison population.
Admittedly, he’s not an easy guy to get to know and only comes to enjoy a prison friendship when he makes a deal with the prison black-market supplier, Red (Freeman), to get him a tiny hammer for his rock collection. Red is also an enigma to most of the inmates. He keeps his nose clean and his hopes up even though the parole board routinely denies him pardon, obviously a racial antagonism.
While the story roils with some rousing prison-type action and is coarsened by an overpowering sense of frustration, The Shawshank Redemption is really about the unlikely friendship between Andy and Red: Each nurtures the other and serves as a touchstone for keeping their sanity intact.
Frank Darabont’s writing and direction are generally crisp, but Shawshank is a tough watch and audiences could use some time cut from its 142 minutes.
In the lead roles, both Robbins and Freeman are outstanding, layering their performances with snippets of individuality: Their small, daily sustenances and minor triumphs are wonderfully inspiring.
Technical contributions are well-crafted, particularly cinematographer Roger Deakins‘ forbidding lensing. Filmed in a garrison-like former prison in Mansfield, Ohio, Shawshank is often overwhelming in its depiction of the granite-cold, stony horror of prison life. Most splendid is Thomas Newman’s somber score, which, at its best moments, alights with radiant textures and sprightly grace notes, nicely emblematic of the film’s central theme. — Duane Byrge
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