Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption isn’t a bad film – it’s just severely overrated. It’s currently got a 9.3 rating out of 10 on IMDB (from 1,361,374 user votes) and it’s certified ‘fresh’ on Rotten Tomatoes with a 91% critic score and 98 % from audiences. That’s a lot of love for a movie that’s just okay. And it is just okay.
Stephen King’s original short story hits the mark but Darabont’s sprawling narrative makes it feel like a prison sentence. The acting is fine but does anybody really deliver great performance? On a visual level there’s nothing spectacular and the music is designed to hit the right emotional notes without standing out on its own.
The Shawshank Redemption is for people who don’t really know movies (I mean really know movies). It ticks enough boxes to feel like a great movie, without ever really being one. Darabont’s film is sad but uplifting and it’s not overly shocking (despite all the usual prison movie tropes being present and correct). Most importantly there’s a happy ending that shows you can persevere through adversity.
In a way, The Shawshank Redemption is the Coldplay music of cinema –it wants to feel authentic, sincere and uplifting but it lacks depth and originality. Watch Papillon instead.