By Marc S. Sanders

When director Gregory Hoblit was shooting this film, did he ever wonder how preposterous this courtroom mystery is?  

This ridiculous effort featuring a tired Anthony Hopkins as a suspect representing himself, and a very green Ryan Gosling as the prosecuting attorney proudly boasts a centerpiece storyline of simply finding a gun used in an attempted murder.  That’s it really.  No nuances.  No subtle riddles.  Just a “what happened to the gun?” plot line.  

It’s any wonder that I had never heard of this movie until I found it on Netflix.

Take my advice.  Find something else on Netflix.


By Marc S. Sanders

The purest form of humanity can be found in some of the most unexpected places. Frank Darabont’s first film, The Shawshank Redemption, based upon a novella by Stephen King is a perfect example of that truth. In a federal prison, the true test of a man’s character is established. Will a prisoner be as cold hearted as the crime he’s been punished for, or will he find a deeper meaning to his existence for himself and those around him? What if this particular man is actually innocent, wrongfully convicted? Will his innocence of crime be upheld?

To experience The Shawshank Redemption is to learn about a community that I am completely unfamiliar with, and I’d bargain most of its viewers are as well. Shawshank prison is not a place I would like to check into. Though many of its residents display heart and comradery, nonetheless. These men likely didn’t know they were capable of such merit until Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) arrived to serve two concurrent life sentences for murdering his wife and her extramarital lover. Andy says he’s innocent without any desperation or urgency because none of that elevated showmanship would make a difference. The evidence and circumstances at trial unfortunately were coincidental to easily sentence Andy for a crime he didn’t commit. Everyone at Shawshank insist they’re innocent. Likely though, Andy is the only one who can genuinely make that claim.

Andy’s introduction to the prison is hard for the first couple of years. He’s consistently beaten and raped by inmates who need to exhaust their sexual tendencies. Fortunately, he sidles up with Ellis “Red” Redding (Morgan Freeman in maybe my favorite role of his career). Red is the go-to man for contraband resources like whiskey or as Andy requests a small rock hammer and a large poster of Rita Hayworth. Everyone is happy to know a guy like Red. Yet, Andy does not lose sight of his personal value. He was a banker by trade and when an opportunity opens up, he assists the viciously frightening prison guard Byron Hadley (Clancy Brown, who really should have more villainous roles in film beyond his voiceover as Lex Luthor in cartoons) with a legally accepted government tax exemption. More importantly Warden Samuel Norton (Bob Gunton) takes advantage of Andy’s talents to sustain his seemingly innocent money laundering schemes.

There is much education to be had from viewing The Shawshank Redemption. I learned what the term “institutionalized” means from Red’s experience. A man who has served a near half century has become accustomed to prison life. He offers little significance or purpose outside the prison walls. I also learned the value of music and literature and art. It’s needed to survive those lonely nights in a prison cell, or worse in the hole where you can wind up should you step out of line from the Warden’s strict guidelines of adhering to discipline and the Holy Bible. What you hear and what your read stay with you in your heart and mind, offering a most valuable commodity – hope. A life sentence will take away your liberties to walk freely among the masses, but nothing will take away what you’ve absorbed. If you can at least hold on to your memories, then you will never lose hope. Andy reminds Red and his fellow prison inmates of the hope you hold onto no matter how long you are held against your will.

Frank Darabont introduces a spectacular midway scene where Andy finally receives a donation of books and records for a prison library he envisions building for Shawshank. He uncovers a vinyl record of an Italian opera and with complete disregard for rules, he airs the music through the intercom. Darabont gathers gorgeous close ups of the hundreds of prison extras with overhead shots of the yard, woodshop and infirmary. The men freeze for a moment to look up in the sky from where the music is emanating from while mixed in with the soothing voiceover narration from Freeman. It’s a beautifully directed scene. A risky scene for late 20th century audiences who are used to quick cuts of action in their films with powerhouse soundtracks and pop music. Darabont found a way to connect the audience delicately to the film through Andy’s personal values and Red’s learned observations.

The Shawshank Redemption is an exceptional piece of writing. I can’t compare it to King’s source material as I’ve never read the story. Having said that, I’m typically hot and cold on the author’s books and screenplays. Sometimes they go too over the top for me. However, Darabont honed in on a perfect balance of likable characters and honest life within a prison; at least I feel that it’s honest. All men are created with good inside them. What they learn from day one is what can drastically change them and what can come of their sins can revert their instincts. Andy Dufresne is the instrument that redeems the men of Shawshank prison. Tim Robbins is right in this role; maybe his best role for his career as well. He does not underestimate any of the men in Shawshank and keeps to his personal enrichment which he also shares, despite the selfish hypocrisy of those meant to maintain order like the Norton and Hadley.

Morgan Freeman is the man who is becoming more and more institutionalized to prison life, always failing to get paroled for a murder he committed when he was a young and stupid kid. If not for Robbins’ melancholy performance as Andy, Freeman’s performance as Red would not realize a new kind of importance for himself. In fact, many of the inmates wouldn’t be able to acknowledge what they are capable of or what they mean in the world they live in without Red, but more importantly Andy as well. Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins make for one of the best on screen couples in film history. Their chemistry is magical. Any scene between them can be studied for the weight of emotion or lack there of which the two actors carry. They both went on to win Oscars later in their career, respectively from a pair of Clint Eastwood projects actually, but the argument can be said that the awards should have come their way for Darabont’s film.

The ending to The Shawshank Redemption is an unforgettable and unexpected piece of storytelling that never seems to imply itself before the reveal and yet pleasantly makes so much sense. Maybe the one convenience to build to it’s winning conclusion stems from the location of Andy’s cell within Shawshank prison. Bah!!!! I dismiss that little contrivance to allow me to joyously appreciate this film over and over again.

There are ironies and unfortunate moments to see in The Shawshank Redemption. Still, there are revelations and opportunities to cheer and feel better about yourself when watching the movie. It’s one of the most uplifting films you will ever see. It’s inspiring and imaginative. Most of all it is smart and defiant. The Shawshank Redemption never believes in despair. It only grasps upon the hope of its characters. The Shawshank Redemption is a must see film.


By Marc S. Sanders

Michael Connolly authored a series of best seller legal thrillers featuring his famed character Mickey Haller. His most favored book of that series was adapted into a 2011 film called The Lincoln Lawyer with Matthew McConaughey in the role and directed by Brad Furman. I only wish more of Connolly’s books were adapted thereafter, because this movie is at least as good as the novel.

McConaughey is well cast as Haller, a defense attorney who operates out of his Lincoln Town Car working to get low level criminals off on technicalities or by easy settlements with the prosecution. His clients range from prostitutes accused of possession to notorious motorcycle gang members. When these clients can’t pay, Mickey wisely becomes resourceful with favors they can provide later on. One of his former clients drives the car while Mickey works in the back seat making calls out of his mobile office.

Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe) has just been arrested for beating up a prostitute at knifepoint. Roulet is a spoiled, preppy thirty something who is protected by the vast wealth of his mother (Frances Fisher) and their successful real estate enterprise. So it’s surprising that Roulet turns to street lawyer Mickey to be his legal counsel. At the same time though, this is a big score in legal fees. So Mickey is enthusiastic to accept the case, and go to trial. Louis doesn’t want it any other way to prove and insist upon his innocence.

It wouldn’t be fair to reveal much more about The Lincoln Lawyer because it’s got a lot of welcome surprises and twists along the way. What I can reiterate is how good an actor Matthew McConaughey is as I’ve written before. He just performs with a relaxed and confident swagger about himself. Mickey Haller is written as a smart and very strategic attorney. He knows the ins and outs of the courtrooms. He not only uses his clients for additional help, but he also sidles up to the bailiffs so he gets his clients cut ahead of the line to quickly face a judge. McConaughey is really good at not glamorizing the intelligence of Mickey Haller, but rather the charming personality of the guy. The character doesn’t come off as having all the answers at his fingertips, even though he likely does. It makes the film that much more dynamic to see McConaughey’s personality ahead of a Sherlock Holmes or Perry Mason kind of lawyer who might telescope everything five steps ahead of what’s eventually going to happen.

The supporting cast of The Lincoln Lawyer is also magnificent with Marisa Tomei, Bryan Cranston, John Leguizamo, Bob Gunton, Michael Pena, Trace Adkins, Josh Lucas and William H Macy. These are just great character actors. Everyone serves a purpose, even if it is just for a few moments.

Again, Mickey Haller is a great, modern day crusader. Like other literary characters such as Alex Cross and Jack Ryan, based on this film, I always hoped McConaughey followed up with at least one or two more additional films. I’d sure as hell be there to watch. Heck, the eventual Oscar winner went on to be a spokesman for Lincoln automobiles. So why couldn’t he have continued to carry the torch on the big screen?