Once upon a time, there were four kindly guards who ran death row. They made their prisoners' last days as painless as possible and took pride in their jobs. Then, they encountered a miracle, and it haunted the head guard the rest of his life.
The Green Mile, which re-teams director Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption) with a Stephen King story, unfolds slowly, with evocative costumes and lush cinematography creating a world somewhat like Southern America during the Great Depression. In this fable, head guard Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) lives a simple life: he reins in the sadistic impulses of bad-tempered guard Percy Wetmore (Doug Hutchison), loves his wife faithfully and drinks milk straight from the heavy-lipped glass bottle. His ordered world is disrupted when he suspects the towering new prisoner, simple-minded John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan) is not only innocent, but has been gifted with a magical power to heal.
The world in The Green Mile is not ours: only one of the prisoners seems to belong on death row, there are no racial overtones to 1930's life in the Deep South, and a gentle giant who's scared of the dark performs miracles. One thing in particular rings false. If putting John Coffey to death is horrible enough to haunt Paul for 60 years, why doesn't he take a stand against it? He's already shown himself to be a man of principle and certainly can afford to leave his job; indeed, he quits after Coffey's execution.
Aside from this inconsistency, The Green Mile is well worth seeing, if you can take the gruesome electrocution scenes. The slow pace leaves room for gentle humour, often built around a mouse that befriends prisoner Eduard 'Del' Delacroix (a nuanced performance from Michael Jeter). The characters are well-developed and likeable, aside from the two obvious bad guys, taking the audience through a range of emotions as each execution brings up questions of salvation and mortality.