Shawshank Redemption has so many iconic moments within it that it is easy to forget how perfectly formed it is as a whole. From the very beginning of the movie you are drawn into the world of Shawshank prison and the small handful of characters that we are introduced to, with Morgan Freeman’s Red giving that slow but purposeful narration and Tim Robbins playing the unassuming Andy Dufresne with quiet determination.
The reason Shawshank Redemption works is because it isn’t a film with an epic plot which has twists and turns or last minute rug-pull reveals. Of course there is a twist, and we’ll get to that later, but what makes the film work is that it is really a series of moments; set-pieces which build the journey of Andy from his first night to his infamous last.
These moments are all staged as small triumphs with a huge impact. None of them are rushed either and it makes you feel the time that Dufresne and his fellow inmates are doing. From avoiding the violently sexual advances of William Sadler’s Heywood, orchestrating a beer on the roof courtesy of Clancy Brown’s rough prison guard or finally getting a library that was years in the making, each moment of sweet relief is earned because the film takes its time building to these reveals and resolutions.
Early on, the movie is staged with a perfect balance of light and dark. The film goes to some dark places, from corrupt guards, suicide and murder but with each darker moment, there is a light balance and the set-piece style of the story means each moment that drops you down is to begin to build you back up again. Which leads us to one of the greatest, uplifting twists in movie history.
There won’t be many that don’t know the end of Shawshank Redemption, or at least the third act twist which delivers the ending. What works so well is that the ending is not dropped out of no-where. It is perfectly teased and like so much else of the film, built slowly but carefully so that there is most impact. It is made that even more satisfying when you see what Andy had to do to achieve his freedom and there are few movie shots as iconic as Robbins, on his knees and arms out-stretched in the pouring rain.
It would have been easy to end the story there but that isn’t satisfying enough a conclusion and its only when Freeman’s Red gets his release and we follow his slightly bumpy journey on the outside, forebodingly foreshadowed earlier in the movie, that we finally get the satisfactory ending we hope for and it will be a heartless viewer not to be smiling when the credits roll.
Overall, Shawshank Redemption is so much more than its most iconic scenes. Its a collection of uplifting moments and well-staged set-pieces. It is dark at times but always offer that glimmer of light which keeps you invested right up until one of the most satisfying ending in cinema.
Rating – 5!
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)
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