Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sunday Best: Directors of All Time #7 - Frank Darabont

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-The Shawshank Redemption
-The Green Mile

-The Majestic


It is not for nothing that the number one ranked movie according to the Internet Movie Database (arguably the most comprehensive and democratic movie voting website) is Frank Darabont's The Shawshank Redemption.  This movie has a special place for me, as it is the only movie I have ever seen in the theater by myself.

But it has to remembered that The Shawshank Redemption was a hard sell.  It was a Stephen King story without the horror or supernatural element.  It took place a men's prison and all kinds of male prisoney things happen in it.  It has a lot of narration, which is usually a sign of poor writing.  And it had a really weird title.  Almost as weird as something like "Attack of the Clones."

But Frank Darabont crafted from that raw material a true and utter masterpiece of film-making.  Liam Neeson once said that George Lucas was a poet with the camera.  I don't know about that, but this statement could clearly be applied to Darabont.  He made the dark and dreary prison beautiful in its sadness.  I am still struck by that helicopter shot of the prison with that hauntingly melancholy score as he sweeps you across the confined landscape.  With that one shot he tells you that you are about to watch an epic, not of vistas but of the spirit.

And while he deserves enormous credit as a writer, in the hands of a lesser director, The Shawshank Redemption would never take off.  His use of visual repetition hypnotizes you into ignoring the obvious clues in the story.  His style in the movie is alternately showy and subtle.  Notice the shot where Red walks out of Shawshank and the camera follows him out.  As the the audiene we leave with him.

Storywise, Darabont created what star Tim Robbins called a real love story between two men that wasn't romantic in any way.  The closeness that Red and Andy have is borne of pure friendship, but that love is strong and real.  Again, in the hands of a lesser director, this love would have been overly sentimental or perhaps too distant to feel real.  But he is smart enough to let this truly masculine Platonic love grow strong while giving it its distance.  Notice the final shot of the movie and it steps away, whereas in a romantic movie, it would end up close.

But Darabont did bring his extra sentimentality to his next film: The Green Mile.  The movie is a little too long, but it wisely takes its time so that it can build its emotional climaxes.  For those who saw the movie, we remember how it felt when Mr. Jangles got crushed.  That moment was so violent and shocking that I remember the entire theater gasped and hissed.  Darabont drew you in deeply and emotionally into the story.  I can still see Hanks' character Paul asking so vividly, "On the day of my judgment when God asks me why I killed one of His true miracles, what am I going to say?"  That scene was made of simple closeups, but Darbont gets Hanks to a place of such sad desperation, begging for a way out.  And I can still see the light spectacle, a firework of grief, after he says, "Roll on two."

Darabont has not been able to match the success, either commercially or artistically, of these 2 films with his later ones.  But to have both The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile in your director's filmography is enough to earn you the number 7 spot on this list.

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