"The Green Mile"

Stephen King thought the script made from his serial novel was the best film adaptation he'd ever read. But that doesn't make the movie any better.

Published February 8, 2001 8:00PM (EST)

"The Green Mile"
Directed by Frank Darabont
Starring Tom Hanks, Michael Clarke Duncan
Castle Rock Entertainment; widescreen anamorphic (1.85:1 aspect ratio)
Extras: Behind-the-scenes documentary, cast and crew notes, trailer

Lost amid the bloated sprawl of "The Green Mile" is a halfway decent episode of "The Twilight Zone." But this death-row, supernatural, religious, triumph-of-the-spirit tale, based on Stephen King's serial novel, is so long and self-indulgent that its redeeming qualities -- not the least of which is another winning performance by Tom Hanks -- only barely prevent the whole enterprise from sinking.

Aside from a present-day framing device, the story is set during the Great Depression. Hanks heads up a generally good-hearted band of prison guards who are determined to bring a sense of peace to their charges' last days (the green mile is their name for death row). Then giant John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan) arrives -- convicted for the murder of two little girls -- and "The Green Mile" heads off into Rod Serling territory. Coffey, like a certain biblical figure also with the initials J.C., has a gift for healing, and soon relieves Hanks of a decidedly painful urinary infection. Hanks seeks to return the favor by attempting to learn whether Coffey is truly guilty. "The Green Mile" strives for a happy ending, but at best can muster only a strange note of cheerful melancholy.

Director Frank Darabont, who did well by King with his version of "The Shawshank Redemption," offers no commentary on the DVD, so the viewer can only guess about his technical achievements this time around. Darabont notes in a brief behind-the-scenes documentary on the disc that "The Green Mile" "didn't have the fur, and the fangs, and the haunted cars, but it had this rich world that it presented." Unfortunately, he takes such a leisurely approach to the material that the second half of the film crawls slower than a life sentence. The focus shifts so frequently between Coffey, Hanks, the other inmates and the warden's ailing wife that it's hard to recall the main strand of the plot.

And this, undoubtedly, was just fine with King, who has made no secret of his dissatisfaction with Hollywood's past treatment of his work. The novel version of "The Green Mile" also covered a lot of ground, but it had the luxury of a much larger canvas. King is a skillful yet sloppy storyteller, and Darabont should have known better than to try to remain absolutely faithful to the original material. On the other hand, when an author of King's stature tells you that your script is "the best film adaptation that I have read, hands down," what are you going to do?

By David Lazarus

David Lazarus covers business and technology for the San Francisco Chronicle.

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