Green Mile, The (1999): Darabont’s Oscar-ominated Prison Drama, Starring Tom Hanks

With a box-office gross of 136.8 million, The Green Mile, Frank Darabont’s conventional prison drama, is the most popular Stephen King screen adaptation in history and one of the very few that is not really scary or horrifying.

Released in December, and toplined by star Tom Hanks, the Castle Rock production was inexplicably nominated for the Best Picture Oscar (see below).

While Frank Darabont received an Oscar nomination for his adapted screenplay, he was snubbed by the Academy’s Directors Branch. “The Green Mile was the only contender that didn’t score a Best Director; Spike Jonze must have taken his spot for the quirky and original, “Being John Malkovich.”

As E.W. put it, “The nomination is widely seen as an also-ran that barely snagged its nom in the first place.”

A mishmash of a sentimental movie with something for everyone, this period melodrama pretended to deal with bi issues like racism, spirituality, and death penalty, though most viewers remembered the image of mice that could perform magical tricks (I am not kidding).

This was Frank Darabont’s second adaptation of a Stephen King novella, five years after “The Shawshank Redemption,” which was also nominated for Best Picture and also deprived him of the directing nod.

Overextending its welcome by an hour (running time is 3 hours and 9 minutes), “The Green Mile” raised eyebrows when it received four nominations.

The movie contains some emotionally powerful moment, but it seems to be too pleased in conveying the brutality prevalent in prison life, depicting graphically various acts of punishment against individual prisoners as well as within the group of wardens.

In many respects, the movies comes across as a procedural portrait of “the highs and the lows” (literally) of spending long time in jail.   Its a tough, restrictive life not just for the prisoners but also for their wardens and supervisors who need to be constantly and continuously on alert, because there’s no way of telling or anticipating “deviant” and ultra-violent conduct.

This my be the reason why the movie takes its time, with slow pacing, often dwelling on incidents and accidents with close-ups and intimate details.

The large, male-dominated ensemble, included some of the best actors in Hollywood, headed by Tom Hanks, David Morse, James Cromwell, Sam Rockwell, Barry Pepper, and Michael Clarke Duncan, who was the only thespian nominated.

Duncan played the most problematic role, John Coffey, an old-fashioned stereotypial role, known in literature as “the magic Negro.”  Dawn Mendez observed in Forbes magazine that Coffey is “saintly, nonthreatening black,” whose purpose in life is to solve a problem for or otherwise further the happiness of a white man.

Tom Hanks as Paul Edgecomb
Dabbs Greer as Old Paul
David Morse as Brutus “Brutal” Howell
Bonnie Hunt as Jan Edgecomb
Michael Clarke Duncan as John Coffey
James Cromwell as Warden Hal Moores
Michael Jeter as Eduard Delacroix
Graham Greene as Arlen Bitterbuck
Doug Hutchison as Percy Wetmore
Sam Rockwell as William “Wild Bill” Wharton
Barry Pepper as Dean Stanton
Jeffrey DeMunn as Harry Terwilliger
Patricia Clarkson as Melinda Moores
Harry Dean Stanton as Toot-Toot
Bill McKinney as Jack Van Hay
Brent Briscoe as Bill Dodge
Gary Sinise as Burt Hammersmith

Oscar Alert

Oscar Nominations: 4

Picture, produced by David Valdez and Frank Darabont
Screenplay (Adapted): Frank Darabont
Supporting Actor: Michael Clarke Duncan
Sound: Robert J. Litt, Elliot Tyson, Michael Herbick, Willie D. Burton

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context

In 1999, “The Green Mile” competed for the Best Picture Oscar with Sam Mendes’ suburban serio-comedy “American Beauty,” which won,
Lasse Hallstrom’s “The Cider House Rules,” Michael Mann’s expose “The Insider,” and the supernatural thriller “The Sixth Sense.”


Warner (Castle Rock)