There's really not much point in me reviewing this film. There's no question that it's an all-time great. It currently occupies the coveted #1 spot on IMDb's Top 250 and moreover, I don't think I know a single human who doesn't already love it. Well, except, inconveniently, for my good friend Luke, who thinks it's too much of a downer (I'm not sure you 'get' the film, buddy!), and my wife, who thinks it's too long. This pretty much means I have to watch it on my own most of the time. I don't have a problem with this though, and I have indeed watched it alone at least 30 times by now, so there's no question that I know it well. You'd think that would make it easy to pick my Top Five Moments, but that was far from the case!
Spoiler Alert: the Top Five Movie Moments featured here obviously assume that you've seen the film in question or don't mind knowing about its most prominent moments so don't come whining to me if they ruin a film that you haven't seen yet!
5... The Sentencing
The film opens with a shot of a lusty couple entering a room and getting busy. Sitting outside in a car is a young man holding a gun. Then we cut to a court room where the same man is being questioned as the accused in a double murder. He pleads his innocence but the evidence, circumstantial though it may be, looks overwhelming. The jury finds him guilty. Soon after, the judge sentences Andy:
Judge: "You strike me as a particularly icy and remorseless man, Mr. Dufresne. It chills my blood just to look at you. By the power vested in me by the State of Maine, I hereby order you to serve two life sentences, back to back, one for each of your victims."
The look on Andy's face says it all...
4... Red's Final Parole Hearing
Though this hearing occurs after Andy's escape, we've seen two similar scenes before - one at the beginning of the film, the other in the middle. On both occasions Red tells the Parole Hearing Board what they want to hear - he's a changed man, he's no longer a danger to society, etc. Both times, a close-up of someone stamping his parole form reveals the word 'Rejected'. It's now twenty years since we first saw Red, and ten years since his second hearing. A lot's happened since then though, and Red's had enough...
Parole Hearings Man: "Ellis Boyd Redding, your files say you've served 40 years of a life sentence. Do you feel you've been rehabilitated?"
Red: "Rehabilitated? Well, now let me see. You know, I don't have any idea what that means."
Parole Hearings Man: "Well, it means that you're ready to rejoin society..."
Red: I know what you think it means, sonny. To me it's just a made up word. A politician's word, so young fellas like yourself can wear a suit and a tie, and have a job. What do you really want to know? Am I sorry for what I did?"
Parole Hearings Man: "Well... are you?"
Red: "There's not a day goes by I don't feel regret. Not because I'm in here, or because you think I should. I look back on the way I was then: a young, stupid kid who committed that terrible crime. I want to talk to him. I want to try and talk some sense to him, tell him the way things are. But I can't. That kid's long gone and this old man is all that's left. I got to live with that. Rehabilitated? It's just a bullshit word. So you go on and stamp your form, sonny, and stop wasting my time. Because to tell you the truth, I don't give a shit."
Once again we see a close-up of his parole form as it's stamped. This time the result is 'Approved'...
3... Tarring the Roof
Andy has become friends with Red and his crew and Red, using his influence as 'the guy who can get things', arranges for he and his friends to get a job tarring the roof of a local license plate factory. As they stand in a line tarring the roof, Andy overhears head guard, Captain Hadley, talking about how he's just inherited $35,000 but is pissed at how much of it he'll then have to pay in taxes. Sensing an opportunity, Andy stops working, turns around, and heads towards Hadley and the other guards. He's right there when they finally spot him. They panic and pull shotguns...
Andy: "Mr. Hadley. Do you trust your wife?"
Hadley: "That's funny. You're gonna look funnier suckin' my dick with no teeth."
Andy: "What I mean is, do you think she'd go behind your back? Try to hamstring you?"
Hadley: "That's it! Step aside, Mert. This fucker's havin' himself an accident."
(Hadley grabs Andy's collar and propels him violently toward the edge of the roof. The cons furiously keep spreading tar)
Heywood: "Oh God, he's gonna do it, he's gonna throw him off the roof..."
Andy (frantically as he's being pushed over the edge): "Because if you do trust her, there's no reason you can't keep the whole $35,000".
(Hadley abruptly jerks Andy to a stop right at the edge. In fact, Andy's past the edge, beyond his balance, shoetips scraping the roof. The only thing between him and an ugly drop to the concrete is Hadley's grip on the front of his shirt)
Hadley: "What did you say? $35,000? All of it?"
Andy: "All of it. Every penny."
Hadley: "You better start making sense."
Andy: "If you want to keep all that money, give it to your wife. The IRS allows you a one-time-only gift to your spouse for up to $60,000."
Hadley: "Bullshit! Tax free?"
Andy: "Tax free. IRS can't touch one cent."
Hadley: "You're the smart banker what killed his wife, aren't you? Why should I believe a smart banker like you? So's I can end up in here with you?"
Andy: "It's perfectly legal. Go ask the IRS, they'll say the same thing. Actually, I feel stupid telling you all this. I'm sure you would have investigated the matter yourself."
(The other prisoners have stopped working, stunned by the unfolding situation)
Hadley: "Fuckin'-A. I don't need no smart wife-killin' banker to show me where the bear shit in the buckwheat."
Andy: "Course not. But you do need somebody to set up the tax-free gift for you, and that'll cost you. A lawyer, for example..."
Hadley: "Bunch of ball-washing bastards!"
Andy: "I suppose I could set it up for you. It would save you some money. If you get the forms, I'll prepare them for you... nearly free of charge."
(Hadley looks suspicious but interested)
Andy: "I'd only ask three beers apiece for each of my co-workers."
Trout (laughing): "Co-workers! Get him! That's rich, ain't it?"
Andy: "I think a man working outdoors feels more like a man if he can have a bottle of suds. That's only my opinion. Sir."
(The convicts stand gaping, all pretense of work gone. Hadley shoots them a look)
Hadley: "What are you jimmies starin' at? Back to work!"
Red (voiceover): "And that's how it came to pass, that on the second-to-last day of the job, the convict crew that tarred the plate factory roof in the spring of '49 wound up sitting in a row at ten o'clock in the morning, drinking icy cold Bohemia-style beer, courtesy of the hardest screw that ever walked a turn at Shawshank State Prison."
Hadley: "Drink up while it's cold, ladies"
Red (voiceover): "The colossal prick even managed to sound magnanimous."
2... Marriage of Figaro
After becoming assistant librarian, Andy is soon attempting to bulk up the library's resources by writing to the State Senate once a week for months and months, requesting additional funds for new books. Finally they get fed up with him and send a few crates to Shawshank. While going through them under a lesser guard's supervision, he finds some records. When the guard goes to 'pinch a loaf', Andy locks him in the toilet and plays a beautiful Mozart record over the prison tannoy system...
Red (voiceover): "I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don't want to know. Some things are best left unsaid. I'd like to think they were singing about something so beautiful, it can't be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free."
1... The Escape
What else? In fact, if I could, I'd make the whole last half an hour the greatest scene, but I suppose that's stretching the meaning of the word 'moment' somewhat. It was only recently that I realised... ever since I've been watching this film, from the first time right up until recently, I've always just assumed Andy was innocent but there's absolutely nothing to show that until Tommy shows up and tells the story of Elmo Blatch. Even then, Warden Norton could be right - maybe Tommy is making the story up to try and make Andy feel better, or perhaps Elmo heard about the case and took credit for it to try and intimidate or impress fellow inmates.
Hmmm, anyway, I'm sure Andy was innocent, and after spending 19 years behind bars for the crime, it looks like everything has finally gotten to him. Red is afraid he's offed himself in his cell, but when the Warden is summoned, one of the greatest reveals in Hollywood history occurs. Not only has Andy been secretly planning and working at his escape for most of his years in Shawshank Prison but he's also managed to earn himself a fortune whilst simultaneously turning in Warden Norton and Captain Hadley. Redemption indeed. For me, this is not only the greatest moment in The Shawshank Redemption but very possibly the greatest moment in cinematic history...