There's something about prison that suits author Stephen King and filmmaker Frank Darabont. Prison movies, that is.
Some of King's best works have been set behind bars, while Darabont made a memorable big-screen directorial debut by fleshing out one of King's stories from the anthology "Different Seasons" the critically acclaimed prison drama, "The Shawshank Redemption."
And while Darabont's long-awaited follow-up, an adaptation of King's best-selling, serialized novel "The Green Mile," isn't quite as good as his earlier film, it's certainly more ambitious and perhaps more thought-provoking.
Like its source material, "The Green Mile" is more along the lines of what you'd consider traditional King fare. That doesn't mean it's strictly a horror piece, though it does contain some of those elements. But it also touches on fantasy, dark humor, racial drama and spirituality.
Although it is a bit lengthy (more than three hours), if you removed even one plot thread, the entire story tapestry might fall apart. So it's to Darabont's credit and to the credit of an his extremely talented cast that it all works.
Sure it's manipulative, sappy and even heavy-handed in places. But it's also so well-made and acted, that it seems like carping to even complain about its faults.
The film's title comes from the nickname for a corridor in the fictional Cold Mountain Penitentiary, circa 1935. That passageway winds through the Death Row cells and ends at the electric chair, the final destination for many of the inmates there.
Chief security guard for this wing of the Louisiana prison is Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks), who oversees the inmates' care, as well as their executions. A firm believer in capital punishment, his faith in it is tested when he meets the newest Death Row inmate, hulking John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan, from "Armageddon").
As he gets to know the hulking man-child better, Paul finds it hard to believe that Coffey could have committed the crime for which he was convicted, the rape and murder of two young children. But then something even stranger happens: He discovers first-hand that John possesses healing powers when the man cures his painful infection.
Needless to say, Paul becomes even more convinced of John's innocence, but while he wrestles with that dilemma, he also has to deal with with a new, troublesome inmate (Sam Rockwell) and an even more troublesome guard with a vicious streak (Doug Hutchison) .
There's more a lot more to the story than just that. But Darabont somehow manages to condense nearly all of King's novel into the movie. Again, almost all of the story and character details are necessary, including a framing sequence that only seems pointless at first.
And for a three-hour movie, it moves pretty well and doesn't really drag, though superb performances from the leads help to keep it compelling.
As Paul, the always-dependable Hanks is a case study in inner turmoil, while Duncan (who was squandered in a minor role in "Armageddon") provides the film with its real emotional center. Don't be surprised if one or both get an Oscar nomination for their work here.
That's not to slight the supporting cast, though. Darabont makes good use of Bonnie Hunt, David Morse and Michael Jeter and throws in some well-placed cameos (include Gary Sinise, William Sadler, Harry Dean Stanton, Graham Greene and veteran actor Dabbs Greer).
"The Green Mile" is rated R for profanity, violent beatings, a shooting and scenes depicting executions, use of crude sexual slang terms and racial epithets, gore, sex (overheard), simulated drug use (a sedative) and brief male nudity.