I remember back in ’96, the “Mystery Science Theater 3000” program had some bits about the upcoming Oscars, and Tom Servo said of this movie, “It’s about a Shawshank! And it gets redeemed! And it’s really, really good!” The gag, of course, being that they’d seen none of the movies they were talking about. I did finally see the movie, though I probably had to see it a couple of times to realize that Red is the eponymous character.
This was the first time I had seen it in the theater, however, and I was struck at how much like an old-time movie it is. It’s basically a lot of characters engaged in their day-to-day lives with comedy, drama—sort of Best Years of our Lives style or maybe The Magnificent Ambersons. And in this respect, it is a really fine piece of moviemaking. The Boy and The Flower also enjoyed it, the former having seen it a few years ago and the latter seeing it for the first time but of course familiar with many of the memes spawned.
But it does suffer a bit from being The Best Movie Ever. It has been rated #1 on IMDB for a good 20 years now and, well, it’s not that good. Maybe because this was the first time I’d seen it on the big screen, but I began to notice a few dubious plot points. Like the guy who actually kills Andy’s wife and the Golf Pro? He explains how he’s scoping out the club for rich people to burgle and ended up in this guy’s house. But the Golf Pro isn’t the rich guy at a club.
There are some other details like this, but they’re not really important. The acting is solid, the direction is tight and confident—impressive given it was Darabont’s first effort—the score is one of the best and probably enough to tip me over to the Thomas-over-Randy for Newman movie scores.
On multiple viewings, it’s really apparent how many of the beats of the movie do sort of depend on surprise, though, which takes some of the luster off. On the other hand, knowing what’s coming adds some depth that you miss the first time around. It’s not a wash—it’s not quite Psycho shower-scene level surprise, but it’s up there in once-you-know-it’s-not-as-good. Unlike, say, The Sixth Sense.
Still, it’s definitely one of the best movies made in the past 30 years.