By John Hanlon
It’s difficult to remember a time when Shawshank Redemption wasn’t celebrated as a modern classic. That time wasn’t too long ago though as the 1994 drama faltered at the box office when it was released. Although the film received seven Oscar nominations (losing in all of its categories), it took years for audiences to fully appreciate the timelessness and the beauty of its elegant story.
Over the years, more and more viewers have celebrated the film and the film has finally arrived in 4K for a whole new generation to appreciate.
Set over the course of two decades, the film stars Morgan Freeman as Red, a prisoner known for his ability to procure items from the outside world. When a man recently convicted of murdering his wife and her lover arrives at the jail, Red doesn’t think much of him. The man is Andy Dufresne, a banker who — like most of his fellow prisoners — claims he’s innocent. Over the course of nearly two decades, the duo become good friends and help each other survive in their harsh world.
The feature has a straightforward narrative and explores life in the prison under the leadership of the corrupt warden (Bob Gunton) and the nefarious Captain Hadley (Clancy Brown).
Adapted from the Stephen King novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, the film focuses on two main characters but reveals much about the human spirit in its depiction of its eclectic cast of characters. From Brooks (James Whitmore), the prison librarian who relies on the prison’s walls more than he imagines to Tommy (Gil Bellows), a slick prisoner who strives to improve his life while doing his time, the story offers an authenticity and a truthfulness about people and their hopes and dreams.
Red and Andy have different perspectives on their futures. While Andy survives on hope, Red considers it "a dangerous thing," one to be avoided at all costs. Even as the supporting cast of characters have their own unique stories to tell, the two main characters maintain their stances even as the world around them evolves and changes.As Red, Freeman is plain-spoken and survives by staying under the radar while the enigmatic Andy (in an underappreciated performance from Tim Robbins) manages to stands out for his mathematic abilities and the drive he maintains even in the toughest of circumstances.
Later in their careers, the two actors went to win Academy Awards for supporting performances in Clint Eastwood here but both were overlooked here (Morgan was at least nominated for his role). It's likely because the two actors embody their roles so quietly that it's hard to separate the performers from their characters. They both perfectly fit into their characters, subtly revealing their personalities in a film packed with quiet moments of introspection and thoughtfulness.
There’s something uniquely inspiring about the two characters and their ability to survive in such a harsh world. Even though the film only tells the story of a few characters locked in a prison — a situation that few viewers can personally relate to — it offers a universal story about hope, perseverance, and ultimately redemption. The story offers such wisdom that many of the lines in it—such as the oft-quoted “Get busy or get busy dying”— remain as timeless and unforgettable as the film itself.