The Shawshank Redemption ★★★★★

Out of the three heavyweights released in 1994, The Shawshank Redemption was the one that ended up bearing the maximum brunt. First commercially by failing to recover its budget for it debuted in theatres together with one of cinema's greatest watershed events; Pulp Fiction. And then at Academy Awards where it was nominated for seven Oscars yet failed to win any, thanks to the sweeping show by the critics’ darling, Forrest Gump.

But life ever since has been very kind to this film, and both critics & viewers have embraced its uplifting story of hope & friendship with remarkable amount of respect, love & kindness. Today, The Shawshank Redemption enjoys a position that’s arguably even higher than the two classics which eclipsed it back in 1994 and while it was discarded at its time of release, it is now rightly & universally acknowledged as one of the greatest films of all time.

The Shawshank Redemption tells the story of Andy Dufresne, a successful banker, who is wrongfully convicted of murdering his wife & her illicit lover and is ultimately sentenced to two consecutive life terms in prison where his coping with the brutal hardships of confined life slowly earns him the respect of his fellow inmates & prison staff, including that of "Red" in whom Andy finds a trusted ally. The remainder of the film explores their friendship over the next two decades.

Written & directed by Frank Darabont, this prison drama is a simple but profoundly moving tale of hope, friendship & redemption that'll manage to connect deeply with most of us in one way or another plus it also marks Darabont's directional debut and he couldn't have asked for a better start. All this film has is men in either prison or police uniforms talking to one another over the course of its runtime and yet it never looked dull or felt like dragging at any given moment.

Cinematography exquisitely captures the monotonous daily life inside prison and provides considerable depth & realism to the era this film is set in. Every moment of despair has a shadowy appearance while moments of hope gleam with light. Editing is spectacular too as the gradual progression of Andy’s life, his friendship with Red, and his determination to not give in to the four walls containing him is effectively unfolded. And Thomas Newman's score beautifully blends with the film’s tone & characters’ lives, and is emotionally fulfilling.

Coming to the performances, Tim Robbins delivers a swashbuckling performance as Andy Dufresne, the banker wrongfully convicted for the crime he didn’t commit. And if Robbins is at his best, then Morgan Freeman is even better as Red, Andy’s friend who is also serving a life sentence & is notorious amongst the inmates for he can smuggle goods into the prison. Freeman also narrates the story to us at which he does an even better job. His work is grounded & can go easily unnoticed, but the character of Red is the soul of this story.

There is a reason why this film still connects with so many people & why many of them have latched on to it. There is a reason why even after two decades, its legacy keeps flourishing & viewers keep returning to it despite its low entertainment value. It's because even though The Shawshank Redemption is a prison drama, its story of imprisonment goes far beyond the bricks & steel rods of a jailhouse. The entire picture is a reflection of our own imprisonment in the institutions of our daily lives; institutions like work, family, society etc & the struggle to live up to the expectations of each one of them.

On an overall scale, The Shawshank Redemption stresses that based on the outlook of life, there are only two types of people: one who can be free even in prison while others who find themselves imprisoned even in freedom. The message it is trying to resonate is clear: Fear can hold you prisoner, Hope can set you free. And if we all give ourselves some hope, there is nothing we can’t survive. Yes, it all seems preachy n everything, but then if there's ever been a motion picture that has earned this sort of right, it’s The Shawshank Redemption. Strongly recommended.

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