A subtle smile for The Green Mile

Ailbhe Daly

Credit: The Green Mile

The adaptation of a book into a movie is something that is rarely done to a level where everyone is satisfied. Stephen King’s 1996 novel and 1999 movie, ‘The Green Mile’, is one exception to this rule.

The adaptation features a cast including Tom Hanks in the leading role as Paul Edgecombe and Michael Clarke Duncan as prisoner John Coffey. The story follows the events on Death Row in a prison in the Deep South of the USA in the 1930’s. John Coffey finds himself in E Block for the rape and murder of two little girls – a crime that is far more complicated than it initially appears.

Edgecombe is the supervisor of E Block, or Death Row, in Cold Mountain Penitentiary.  His supporting prison officers, both on screen and in print, are fantastic. The portrayal and casting excels and while some characters may not be exactly as mentally pictured, their actions make up for this.

Taking characters that are inherently evil and making them likeable is one thing that The Green Mile succeeds in greatly. Feeling compassion for these criminals isn’t what you expect from the outset but seeing them painted as real people is something that will resound with many.

For example, Eduard Delacroix, a French-Canadian who burned people alive, becomes a character you pity by the time of his execution. When a mouse gets into E Block, Delacroix forms a special bond and names him Mr. Jingles. Despite being an evil man, there is something endearing about this bond that shows a different side.

While you may expect the criminals to be the antagonists of The Green Mile, it is in Percy Wetmore, a cowardly prison guard. Percy is detestable from his first appearance. His arrogance and selfishness impacts every other character negatively and comes to its boiling point when he intentionally executes Delacroix the wrong way.

In the book, much of the narrative is done in Edgecombe’s head and through his writing, which he does in Georgia Pines, a retirement home. This is not executable in the movie but the narration works just as well.

Sam Rockwell shines in his role as ‘Wild Bill’, an inmate that thinks he’s a reincarnation of Billy The Kid. He is one of the few characters that is actually better on screen than in print and gives a harrowing performance as the unruly prisoner.

The tale of John Coffey is one that is moving regardless of the medium it is experienced in. An innocent man being convicted for a crime he didn’t commit is bad enough without adding his incredible healing powers to the mix. Coffey feels the things that others feel, be it their joys or sorrows, and this is something that Edgecombe and the other guards are conflicted with. Coffey wants to die but he shouldn’t. The frailty of life is emphasised in such a harrowing way that by the time Coffey is executed, you understand why he wants to go.

While it is true that there are parts left out and little background nuggets omitted from the adaptation, the acting takes the movie to another level. It stands on worthy ground beside its source material.