When movie fans are asked to think of the best Stephen King film adaptations, what comes to mind are usually horror classics like Carrie and The Shining. But King hasn’t only written horror stories, and some of King’s most beloved tales are devoid of the elements that made books like IT and The Shining famous.
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to learn that some of King’s stories have inspired acclaimed movies that aren’t scary or unnerving, but thrilling and intimate. That’s the case for one classic 1994 film, which is arguably one of the best adaptations of King’s work.
We are, of course, talking about The Shawshank Redemption. Based on a 1982 King novella, this Frank Darabont film received a total of seven Oscar nominations when it was released in 1994, and has since entrenched itself as one of the most iconic movies of the 1990s.
The film is well-deserving of its continued acclaim, but it’s leaving Netflix at the end of this week. Here’s why you should check it out first.
The Shawshank Redemption tells a fairly simple story. The film begins in the late 1940s and follows Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) after he’s arrested and sentenced to serve two life sentences at Shawshank State Prison for the murder of his wife and her lover. He quickly strikes up a friendship with a fellow inmate, Ellis Boyd "Red" Redding (Morgan Freeman), and the film charts the course of their bond as they struggle to come to terms with their lives at Shawshank.
From a technical standpoint, the film is a masterclass in visual storytelling. Despite boasting an intimidating 142-minute runtime, it moves along at a measured and controlled pace. Roger Deakins’ cinematography is masterful but never overly stylized, substituting a vibrant color palette for a heavy emphasis on shadow and light. The resulting film is one that manages to find the sublime in even the dourest places.
But it’s Robbins and Freeman who emerge as the heart and soul of The Shawshank Redemption. The actors give two of the best performances of their careers as a pair of inmates struggling to hold onto hope in a place that seems designed to extinguish it. Freeman, in particular, shines as Red, whose journey only seems to grow deeper and more moving every time you watch it.
Frank Darabont, who also helmed The Mist and The Green Mile, ranks as one of the best filmmakers to ever adapt King’s work for the big screen, but it’s The Shawshank Redemption that best showcases Darabont’s unique understanding of King’s style. That’s because it not only manages to be intense and suspenseful in the way that all of King’s best stories are, but the author’s trademark humor is present throughout as well. As a result, The Shawshank Redemption succeeds at being both a faithful adaptation of a beloved Stephen King story, and a thrilling and cinematic film that’s emotionally involving from beginning to end. You owe it to yourself to watch it while you still can.
The Shawshank Redemption is available to stream on Netflix until April 30.