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Film Review: The Shawshank Redemption

Updated on December 20, 2016
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Film reviews from across the cinematic landscape. Written by: Jason Wheeler, Film Frenzy Senior Writer & Editor.


In 1994, Frank Darabont released The Shawshank Redemption, based off the 1982 novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King. Starring Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton, William Sadler, Clancy Brown, Gil Bellows and James Whitmore, the film grossed $28.3 million at the box office.


In 1947, banker Andy Dufresne is found guilty for murdering his wife and her lover and is sentenced to two life sentences in Maine’s Shawshank Penitentiary. There, he becomes acquainted with an old con, Ellis “Red” Redding , who knows how to get things. Through the years, Red procures him a rock hammer to carve a chess set and Andy betters the lives of his inmates and gives the warden and guards financial advice.


Though it didn't get all that great of a box office reception, The Shawshank Redemption is an incredible film that gives the audience a lot to think about. What’s fascinating is that although Andy is the closest thing that can be considered a good person in this film, there really isn’t anyone who’s completely good. Red and Brooks initially did something, implied to be murder, to warrant life sentences. The guards are more brutal than they should be in maintaining order around the prison and the warden is guilty of money laundering, cooking books, taking bribes, conspiracy, and blackmail. Andy himself still stalked his wife and considered killing her and even states that he had to come to prison to be considered a criminal in how he does what the warden tells him to do in the conspiratorial money laundering schemes.Further, even though he blows the whistle on the whole operation, he still takes the money and escapes.

The legality of everything that Andy does aside, he’s quite the shining beacon of hope and refuses to let the oppressive atmosphere of Shawshank get to him at all. He stays quiet on the first night and continues to fight back against The Sisters. When the government answers his inquiries about the library with something he considers substandard, even after two years of inquiries, he continues to do so until he gets what he wants. It leads to one of the best scenes of the film when he locks himself in the warden’s office and plays Italian opera, really cementing that he refuses to let anything get to him, even when they punish him or it. Red calls hope a dangerous thing and that’s because it really is, especially when combined with the message of how a person should go about living or dying. Hope is dangerous because it drives a man to do not let the hopeless environment crush him, and embracing it will make him get busy living. Letting the hopelessness take hold just means it’s time to die. Andy won’t accept that and he won't let Red do so either.

The hopelessness also reaches outside the prison walls. Brooks spent 50 years locked up before he was released and couldn’t acclimate to the outside world. He wasn’t able to see hope or embrace it and committed suicide. Red almost did the same before he realized just because hope is dangerous doesn’t mean it’s bad to embrace it.When he finds hope after being released, he finds a reason to embrace it, get busy living and tracks down Andy.

Red’s failed parole hearings also have quite the interesting contrast to his successful hearing. For the first two, he tells the board that he has been rehabilitated and he’s ready to face the outside world. However, the board can see that he’s really just telling them what they want to hear. The third time, he says something different. He tells them that the word rehabilitated doesn’t mean anything. What's more is that Red has spent so much time thinking about what he’s done that he wishes he could go back and tell his younger self not to commit the crime, but he can’t. It shows that he truthfully does regret what he’s done and has changed. The head of the parole board also gives a little smirk when Red talks about it, showing he sees Red finally sees what he’s been missing this whole time.

5 stars for The Shawshank Redemption

Awards won

Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films Saturn Awards

  • Best DVD/Blu-Ray Collection (as part of "The Frank Darabont Collection")

American Society of Cinematographers Awards

  • Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Theatrical Releases

Awards Circuit Community Awards

  • Best Adapted Screenplay
  • Best Cinematography
  • Second Place - Best Actor in a Leading Role (Morgan Freeman)
  • Second Place - Best Art Direction
  • Second Place - Best Costume Design
  • Second Place - Best Original Score

Awards of the Japanese Academy

  • Best Foreign Film

Camerimage Awards

  • Bronze Frog

Chlotrudis Awards

  • Best Actor (Morgan Freeman)

Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Awards

  • Best Cinematography
  • Second Place - Best Actor (Morgan Freeman)
  • Third Place - Best Picture

Heartland Film Festival Awards

  • Studio Crystal Heart Award

Hochi Film Awards

  • Best Foreign Language Film

Humanitas Prize

  • Feature Film Category

Kinema Junpo Awards

  • Best Foreign Language Film
  • Readers' Choice Award - Best Foreign Language Film

Mainichi Film Concours Awards

  • Best Foreign Language Film

National Board of Review Awards

  • Top Ten Films

National Film Preservation Board

  • National Film Registry

Online Film & Television Association Awards

  • OFTA Film Hall of Fame - Motion Picture

PEN Center USA West Literary Awards

  • Screenplay

USC Scripter Awards

  • USC Scripter Award

Nominated for

Academy Awards

  • Best Picture
  • Best Actor in a Leading Role (Morgan Freeman)
  • Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Sound
  • Best Film Editing
  • Best Music, Original SCore

Golden Globe Awards

  • Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama (Morgan Freeman)
  • Best Screenplay - Motion Picture

Screen Actors Guild Awards

  • Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role (Morgan Freeman)
  • Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role (Tim Robbins)

Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films Saturn Awards

  • Best Action/Adventure/Thriller Film
  • Best Writing

American Cinema Editors Eddie Awards

  • Best Edited Feature Film

Awards Circuit Community Awards

  • Best Original Score
  • Best Motion Picture
  • Best Director
  • Best Actor in a Leading Role (Tim Robbins)
  • Best Film Editing
  • Best Achievement in Sound
  • Best Cast Ensemble

Camerimage Awards

  • Golden Frog

Casting Society of America Artios Awards

  • Best Casting for a Feature Film, Drama

Chicago Film Critics Association Awards

  • Best Supporting Actor (Morgan Freeman)
  • Best Picture
  • Best Screenplay

Chlotrudis Awards

  • Best Actor (Tim Robbins)

Directors Guild of America Awards

  • Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures

Grammy Awards

  • Best Instrumental Composition Written for a Motion Picture or for Television

PGA Awards

  • Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures

Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards

  • Best Picture

Writers Guild of America Awards

  • Best Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published


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