As the story begins, a very old man begins to relate his story to a friend at a nursing home. He tells his companion about the Cold Mountain Penitentiary in Louisiana, where the events he speaks about took place in 1935 . . .
The head guard in the death row cellblock – which has a green painted floor, hence its nickname of ‘the green mile’ – is a reasonable man named Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks), and among his prisoners awaiting execution is a seven-foot-tall 300lb childlike black man called John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan), who has been convicted of raping and murdering two little blonde girls in the deep south – despite a lack of concrete evidence or motive (you just know he didn’t do it).
After a series of unusual events take place, Edgecomb begins to wonder whether Coffey has special healing powers, to the extent that he feels John can help Melinda (Patricia Clarkson), the cancer-stricken wife of the prison’s warden (James Cromwell).
However, time is running out for John Coffey – “Like the drink, only spelled different” – since he has a date with the electric chair. Edgecomb, who has no stomach for frying John, says, “What will I tell God when he asks why I killed one of his angels?”.
The worst villain, after prisoner Billy Wharton (Sam Rockwell in maniac overdrive), is the guard Percy Wetmore (nice, nasty work by Doug Hutchison), who uses his friends in high places to get away with acts of sadism – and who squashes Mr Jangles, a mouse that the prisoners regard as a pet.
The film – which is three hours long but flies by – is a complex story operating on several levels. Unsurprisingly, it was based on a novel by Stephen King.
Michael Duncan passed away in 2012 from a cardiac arrest. He was just 54.
Michael Clarke Duncan
Brutus ‘Brutal’ Howell
Warden Hal Moores
Eduard ‘Del’ Delacroix
William ‘Wild Bill’ Wharton
Harry Dean Stanton
Jack Van Hay