The mix of a Stephen King novel, the director, Frank Darabont and the setting of a prison did so well in The Shawshank Redemption that we shouldn't be surprised that they team up again for The Green Mile. Again it is another accomplished effort, if not quite matching Shawshank.The Green Mile starts the same way as other recent three-hour plus epics. In Forest Gump, Titanic, and Saving Private Ryan (which Darabont was an uncredited co-writer) they all start with a person reminiscing about the past. In this case it's Paul Edgecomb (Hanks) - a resident of a nursing home. A glimpse of the old film Top Hat sparks a memory of his job as a death row prison officer during the depression.
A new prisoner, John Coffey (Duncan) is brought into Paul's cellblock.
He's big. Really big. Goddamn he's so big.
He has been convicted and sentenced to death for the rape and murder of two young girls. He seems a bit of a gentle giant; did he really do it? Well he might have - as Coffey's lawyer, Burt Hammersmith (Sinise - turning up with Hanks again. They were together in Gump and Apollo 13) points out, sometimes the gentle can lash out. Regardless, Coffey is more than he seems as we find out later.
In a lot of the first half nothing that special happens as the film just ambles along. You get the feeling something good was going to happen, you just weren't enjoying the wait.
In the second half, things improve markedly, climaxing with the sequence where we are shown the fate of the two murdered girls and the true nature of Coffey. The film becomes compelling and much more visually interesting.
The way that Coffey is written as a noble gentle giant is bordering on condescending. Not every African American before the 1950s said 'boss' and wore overalls and white undershirt. It is distracting to what is essentially a worthy story that Darabant adapted from the Stephen King serialised novel.
Hanks is dependably solid with a role that he now can do on autopilot. Darabont has the rest of the cast suitably noble and they do a first-rate job. The writing is the film's flaw with not enough work on the characters - they're all pretty one-dimensional - especially Percy and John Coffey. Hutchison as Percy stands out, but only really because he is so annoying. (Hutchison will be familiar to Chris Carter fans as he has appeared in both Millennium and The X - Files).With the success of Shawshank, it's not surprising the filmmakers would want to stretch themselves again. Perhaps they've stretched too far with this excellent film being dragged down by the script that needed a bit more work on its characters.