The Green Mile: Special Edition
December 1, 2006
Starring: Tom Hanks, David Morse, Bonnie Hunt, Michael Clarke Duncan, James Cromwell, Michael Jeter, Graham Greene, Dough Hutchison, Sam Rockwell, Barry Pepper, Patricia Clarkson, Harry Dean Stanton,
Magic realism is a tricky thing to pull off in a movie. It’s a deft balancing act that if you go too far in one direction you run the risk of losing the audience. In literature, it is much easier to pull off because a lot of it is left up to the reader’s imagination. Stephen King is the master of magic realism fiction and his novel, The Green Mile, is an excellent example. Frank Darabont demonstrated his keen understanding of King’s work with the Shawshank Redemption (1994) and then again with The Green Mile (1999).
Set during the Depression, Paul Edgecomb (Hanks) is a prison guard at Cold Mountain Penitentiary. He runs Death Row or, as he and his men call it, “The Green Mile,” on account of the colour of the floor. One day, they get a new arrival: John Coffey (Duncan), a massive mountain of a man who killed two little girls. Despite his imposing physique, he’s a mild-mannered man who hardly seems like the killing type. On the surface, Coffey appears to be a simple-minded killer but something doesn’t add up and Paul senses this, taking a particular interest in the man. Most of the guards that work with Paul seem decent enough except for Percy (Hutchison), a petty bully who uses his position as a guard to physically and verbally abuse the convicts. Paul tolerates him only because he has no choice. Percy has friends in high places.
Tom Hanks delivers a nicely restrained performance and fits in well with the rest of the ensemble cast. The actor does what he does best – playing a kind, compassionate man. He is ably supported by the likes of David Morse and Barry Pepper, both underrated character actors. However, the heart and soul of The Green Mile is Michael Clarke Duncan who delivers an absolutely heartbreaking performance. Coffey is one of those rare, gentle souls. Duncan is very convincing as a man imbued with a very special power and does a great job of showing how his character uses it in a way that is never hokey. Coffey is a combination of Jesus with his ability to heal people, the hulking presence of Frankenstein’s monster (the “villagers” are terrified of him and he is even found with two dead girls) and the gentle giant presence of Lenny from Of Mice and Men.
Each prisoner is given a scene that fleshes out their character so that we gain some insight into who they are. Even though they may be guilty of whatever horrible crime they committed, they are still human beings that deserve some modicum of respect. You get to know these characters unique ways, like Hanks through his urinary tract infection or Michael Jeter’s convict and his circus mouse. The Green Mile not only shows the compassion that people are capable of but also the cruelty as represented by the psychotic prisoner Wild Bill (Rockwell) and Percy who takes pleasure in tormenting the inmates, even going so far as to kill the pet of one of the convicts – a little mouse. More so than Billy, Percy is vindictive, evil and a coward. Billy’s insane but Percy knows exactly what he’s doing and that is even worse.
Darabont manages to avoid making an overtly sentimental film filled with schmaltz by instead placing an emphasis on compassion and dignity. The characters aren’t simple caricatures but fully developed and realized by a cast that does such a good job bringing them to life. Even with the presence of a cute mouse called Mr. Jingles, Darabont makes sure that the film never gets too touchy-feely by showing the executions that occur during the film in unflinching detail so that we are reminded just how horrific they are. The second execution, especially, is truly disturbing and this is where Stephen King’s element of horror makes its presence known. Darabont gradually introduces the fantastical elements so that it is more believable and easier to accept. It is movies like this that need to be viewed in its proper aspect ratio in order to properly appreciate the meticulous composition of each frame. I’m not particularly crazy about prison films but The Green Mile is so much more than that.
The first disc features an audio commentary by writer/director Frank Darabont. This track is extremely informative as he points who the actors are and what they’ve done previously (particularly if he’s worked with them before). He also points out which scenes were shot on location and what ones were done on a set. He gives plenty of credit to his crew, right down to the person who assembled the montage of images seen on a channel surfing television. Darabont also talks about the changes he made adapting Stephen King’s novel and why. This is an excellent track full of good observations from a man who clearly knows a lot about filmmaking and is not afraid share his knowledge with others.
There are two deleted scenes with optional commentary by Darabont. He mentions that he had trouble tracking down this footage. He goes on to put them in context of the rest of the film and why they were cut – mostly due to time constraints and pacing.
“Michael Clarke Duncan’s Screen Test.” The actor worked for weeks on the role and this footage provides ample evidence as to why he was cast. It feels like he was born to play the role.
“Tom Hanks Makeup Tests.” Originally, Darabont wanted Hanks to also play the older version of his character and even brought in Rick Baker to create realistic aging makeup but it didn’t look good enough on film. This footage allows you to see if Darabont made the right choice.
“The Teaser Trailer: A Case Study” features Darabont talking about the ill-fated teaser trailer that featured Hanks and Mr. Jingles the mouse but the final product looked too silly and was not used.
Also included is a teaser and theatrical trailer.
The second disc includes “Walking the Mile: The Making of The Green Mile” featurette that was done during filming and takes a look at how it all came together. Michael Jeter describes the film as “a triumph of loving kindness.” It goes on take us through various aspects of the movie with plenty of thoughtful soundbites from cast and crew members. There is also lots of on-the-set and rehearsal footage which is a nice touch.
“Miracles and Mystery: Creating The Green Mile” is an in-depth retrospective documentary that can be viewed in six separate featurettes or altogether. There’s a profile of Stephen King with fellow writers and artists praising him and talking about what makes his fiction work. Darabont talks about how he approached adapting King’s novel. He wasn’t interested in doing another prison movie but when the author pitched him the idea he was intrigued. There’s a segment dedicated to the cast with all of the main actors returning for this extra. They speak highly of each other and how generous they all were. Duncan talks about how he achieved the child-like mentality of Coffey. Another segment takes a look at how the production design, cinematography and costume design worked together with their goal being to bring a certain level believability as opposed to Hollywood-izing it. This extra also shows the great amount of care and detail that went into every aspect of the movie. The next segment focuses on the special effects of the film including the make-up effects and how various attempts were made to turn Hanks into an old man. As for the visual effects, they tried to blend them as seamlessly as possible, in particular the electric chair executions. Finally, there is a segment on Mr. Jingles and how they trained various mice to do all the things he had to do in the movie.