A story of hope is just about the last thing you'd expect to find in a prison movie. But in The Shawshank Redemption, that's exactly what you get.
Shawshank is the story of Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), a man convicted of murdering his wife and her lover and shipped to a maximum-security prison in Shawshank, Maine, for two consecutive life sentences. Over the next years (two hours, movie time), he finds his way to inner peace and self-reliance in the midst of the terror and inequity of the prison system.
It's also one of those movies that is a work of both art and magic. It paints the picture of a man who will not relinquish the only thing that cannot be taken from him by external forces: hope. And yet, like Andy, you are completely enveloped by Shawshank. From the first shot of the prison -- an utterly gothic structure that assaults you with a sense of foreboding -- you get a sense of how grim life inside must be. You experience a prison life composed of routine and debasement.
The performances in Shawshank are top notch, and the commentary upon the justice system is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But it's not a perfect movie. Shawshank's script falls short at times -- I suppose such happens when using a Stephen King novella as the source for a serious movie. AndShawshank's characters are, to a certain extent, just well-formulated clichés. There's Red (Morgan Freeman), the convict who knows how to "get things," who actually says at one point, "I suppose there's a convict like me in every prison." Andy is the stereotype of the innocent man doing time for a crime he did not commit. The story is basically predictable. The dialogue has a propensity to get preachy.
Despite these flaws, The Shawshank Redemption is a film with remarkable staying power. It sustains its suspense and tension throughout; its remarkably hopeful story is thoroughly engrossing. In the end of it all, Andy will escape Shawshank. You will escape Shawshank. But you will...