1994 / Best Actor / Best Picture

Film #364: The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Freeman fared much better, and earned a Best Actor nomination, for his role in Best Picture nominee The Shawshank Redemption. Of the three I’ve just covered, I believe that The Shawshank Redemption is the best so it’s interesting that it is the only one that didn’t win the big prize. It’s also the only film in this post that I’ve watched multiple times and have even included it in one of my essays.

The film sees Freeman star as Red, a long term inmate at Shawshank Prison who is continually up for parole throughout the course of the film. Red acts as the narrator of the film which is a role that Freeman would take on throughout the rest of his career partly due to his dulcet tones. Despite being recognised as the film’s lead actor, The Shawshank Redemption is co-headlined by Freeman and Tim Robbins as banker Andy Dufrense. Dufrense enters Shawshank convicted of the murder of his wife and her lover and indeed experiences a tough time inside the jail. But through his friendship with Red, his endurance of sexual attacks at the hands of the ‘sisters’ and his persistence at kitting the prison library out with new reading material, Andy finds a way to survive. However The Shawshank Redemption will probably be best-remembered for the final scenes in which Andy breaks out of the prison. Upon his release Red joins him but interestingly the film was meant to end with Freeman’s voiceover talking about hope. But it appears as if audiences weren’t happy with this and wanted the solid conclusion that Andy and Red would be reunited in Mexico. This was the first time watched The Shawshank Redemption with this knowledge and I’ll be the first to admit that the ambiguous ending probably would’ve worked better. That being said I don’t begrudge people a happy to a film that is incredibly tough to watch at times.

The very first time I watched The Shawshank Redemption was when somebody lent me a VHS copy of it and I enjoyed it that much that I didn’t want to give it back. I think the film is just perfectly paced and has a character at the heart of it that you want to root for. Director Frank Darabont really makes Shawshank one of the main characters of the piece and demonstrates how the institution has affected the prisoners in different way. There are a plenty of emotional moments for me throughout the film and I always can’t help but shed a tear when the prison librarian Brooks commits suicide after being released. Similarly I always smile when Andy plays The Marriage of Figaro over the prison’s PA system and every inmate is completely transfixed by the music. Tim Robbins is perfectly cast as the mild-mannered bank manager who is forced to spend his lifetime locked up for a crime that he didn’t commit. Robbins portrays Andy as a smart character but also one who isn’t cut out for a life on the inside. More than anything else Robbins makes you sympathise with Andy so you’re cheering when he finally makes his escape from Shawshank. But I’d agree with Oscar in saying that this is Freeman’s film, especially as Red acts as the movie’s narrator. When we first enter Shawshank, Red’s is the first face we see and his expression of joy at being reunited with Andy is our lasting memory of the film. Freeman portrays Red as a worldly-wise character but someone whose view is changed significantly thanks to his relationship with Andy. But it’s Freeman’s voice that really dominates the film and I bet that if you’re thinking about The Shawshank Redemption then it’s his voice you’ll hear. I do feel that’s the biggest testament to both Freeman’s performance and the character of Red as a whole.


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