I couldn't tell much about this movie from the previews. I mostly wanted to see it because Tom Hanks has gotten pretty good at choosing his movies. It turns out this is one of Stephen King's non-horror stories, though it does have supernatural elements. I haven't read the book/story.
The movie is set I think in the '30s in Louisiana, in death row at a state prison. Tom Hanks plays the head guard of that detail.
In the story, we have a group of guards who are decent people and try to treat the prisoners with respect. The prisoners reciprocate. This calm atmosphere is disrupted by a new guard who's sadistic and a new prisoner who's a real psychotic killer. Mixed in with this is the supernatural element with the John Coffey character who has the gift of healing.
As usual, I'm sure I missed most of the symbolism of the story. I'm sure there's supposed to be some significance to the ordered life run by the fair-minded Hanks getting thrown into turmoil. How both the guards and prisoners had taken the potentially inhuman situation of men waiting for their inevitable deaths, and using compasion and respect, had made it tolerable for everyone involved. Along come two men who have no respect for their fellow man, either one of which could shatter the peace that has reigned. How do Hanks and his fellow guards deal with them?
And thrown in with all of that is John Coffey. How does Hanks and crew deal with a repeatable miracle at the same time as dealing with the two new assholes?
There's a lot going on in this movie. It has good characters and very good interaction between them. And some very plausible plot obstacles. Considering that this had a supernatural element, the verasimilitude held together very well in this story. The situations and the characters' reactions to them all played out very believably.
One minor nit is the way they showed Coffey purging himself of whatever it was he drew from people when he touched them. I'm guessing the description in King's original story probably said something along the lines of "...a million gnats." But the special effect they used ended up looking like just a bunch of computer-generated black dots swarming around. Somehow it just came across as clunky compared to the rest of the cinematography and the performances the actors were giving.
On my brother's Total Movie Value Scale, Full Price. The characters and their reactions to events and each other really drove this story.
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