A lot of big name actors have these shticks that they tend to do in a lot of their movies. Tom Cruise runs in more movies than not. Brad Pitt tends to chew on spoons. Harrison Ford points at people a lot, especially when his character is angry. Keira Knightly clenches her jaw a lot. Jack Nicholson is known for his crazed grins. George Clooney tends to wobble his head a lot when he talks, although that may actually be something he naturally does anyway. So what is Tom Hanks’s shtick? He tends to pee in a lot of his movies.
Let’s go through some of them. It started with A League of Their Own, where Tom Hanks plays an alcoholic coach of an all-women baseball team during WW2. In the scene where he first meets the team, he heads straight for the toilet and pees for quite a while. In The Terminal, there’s a scene where he needs to wait for a very important phone call, but he needs to pee. In Forrest Gump, when he meets JFK, he tells the president that he needs to pee. Apollo 13 has Hanks explaining how to pee in space for a TV broadcast. But perhaps the most significant example of all is today’s subject. Hanks’s character peeing is a major subplot in this movie.
There’s a lot more to talk about with The Green Mile. It’s a dramatic adaptation of Stephen King’s book of the same name. In the movie, Hanks plays Paul Edgecomb, a Warden Supervisor overseeing Death Row in Louisiana during the Great Depression. It’s worth mentioning this is a fairly heartbreaking drama, so don’t watch it if you’re already depressed or want to watch a movie that puts you in a good mood. That said, it’s very good. The movie opened in December of 1999, and ended up earning $296.8 million on a $60 million budget. Although it didn’t win any, it received 4 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (for the late Michael Clarke Duncan), and Best Sound. Hanks himself won several minor acting awards for his role, including the Blockbuster Entertainment Awards.
Director Frank Darabont also wrote the script, which only took him 6 weeks to adapt from the book. The movie is actually a very close adaptation of the book, only removing a couple subplots from the “modern” side of the story taking place at a nursing home, while adding a moment where Paul seeing the “I’m in Heaven” song from the 1935 movie Top Hat brings him to tears. It’s a very effective emotional moment. Apart from that, most of the changes have mostly to do with the film’s structure and some of the ordering of events.
For the most part, the casting of this movie went fairly smoothly. Hanks and Darabont met with King at an Academy Award luncheon in 1994 (which happened to be the year he won his first of two Academy Awards, for his role in Philadelphia). There, Darabont mentioned that he wanted Hanks to play the role of the guard, and King said straight up that he envisioned Hanks for the role. Hanks was to originally play the elderly Paul, but they couldn’t convincingly make him look old with makeup, so they hired Dabbs Greer instead. Greer was actually a fairly big actor in the 50s and 60s, having appeared in over 100 films throughout his career. The Green Mile is actually his last ever film role. He retired shortly after, and passed away in 2007.
Other cast members include David Morse as the rather large prison guard, Brutus. Bonnie Hunt plays Paul’s wife, Jan. James Cromwell plays the prison warden, Hal Moores. Michael Jeter plays Eduard, another of the death row inmates. Sam Rockwell plays “Wild Bill”, a psychotic inmate. Barry Pepper plays another guard, who also appeared alongside Hanks in Saving Private Ryan as the sniper. You’ve also got Doug Hutchison plays sadistic guard Percy Wetmore – he’s known for playing disturbing characters.
As for Duncan, he plays John Coffey, a very large black man who is sentenced to death for the accused murder of two girls. This is generally considered to be his breakout role, and it’s definitely a better movie than his other movie I’ve already looked at, Armageddon. The role was originally offered to Shaquille O’Neal, who turned it down. Considering Shaq isn’t exactly the greatest actor in the world, it’s probably a good thing he turned it down. He’s got plenty of talents, but acting isn’t among them. Duncan on the other hand was a brilliant talent whose career was unfortunately cut short by a by a heart attack at 54.
Before I get into why this movie works so well, let’s get back to the peeing subplot. Hanks’s character, Paul, starts the movie off suffering from a severe bladder infection. It pains him significantly to empty it out, and its effecting his love life at home with his wife. After Wild Bill is brought to the prison, and attacks several guards, Paul is left lying on the ground after being struck in the groin. It’s here where John Coffey reveals that he’s got some sort of supernatural healing abilities, and completely rids Paul of his infection. The look of relief on Hanks’s face as his character takes his first comfortable pee in months is both dramatically effective and amusing at the same time.
Coffey’s supernatural abilities is also where most of this movie’s drama comes from. He’s clearly not all that intelligent, but he understands what’s going on. He knows that he’s on death row. Duncan does a brilliant job portraying who is essentially a child trapped in the body of a giant. A very kind giant who happens to be emotionally tortured, yet carries a very special gift. Duncan and Hanks play off each other very well, with John Coffey trusting Paul on a deep level, and Paul not only caring about the mental wellbeing of his inmates, but slowly realizing that Coffey is someone special.
Having two genuinely terrible people, with Percy Wetmore and “Wild Bill” on opposite sides of the bars is also true to life. While there are genuinely remorseful prisoners, there are also complete psychopaths who feel no guilt for the terrible things they’ve done. On the flip side, while many police officers and prison guards genuinely want to help people, some seek those jobs purely for the power rush. There will also be those corrupted by that power despite their initial good intentions.
It’s worth mentioning that King tends to put a lot of Christian themes in his books, even if they’re not meant to be Christian books. The Green Mile doesn’t blatantly point to any one religion, but it’s stated multiple times that John Coffey’s gifts are most likely from God. After Paul discovers beyond the shadow of a doubt that John is innocent, he starts to worry about his judgement day if he goes through with the execution. Even if these themes are a major part of the story, the movie doesn’t preach any specific values. It’s a good balance. Believers can take this as a story about a miracle. Non-believers can still take this as a very good drama about an innocent man on death row, who chose to accept his fate regardless.
In case you haven’t read the book or seen this movie before, it’s best not to spoil too much. While this is a sad movie in general, there is comedy and some lighthearted moments to balance it out. Most of the comedy comes from “Wild Bill’s” antics, and the punishments he receives for said antics. There’s also the charming “Mr. Jingles”, a very talented mouse. As a whole, it’s a very good movie, with fantastic performances all-round, a compelling story, and some genuinely tearful moments towards the end. This may not be Hanks’s best performance, because he’s given us a lot of very good performances, but it is up there with the best movies he’s been in.
Next up is a Halloween-themed entry in Tom Hanks month. I may try to time it specifically for the morning of October 31, but we’ll see. It’s not what I would call a good movie, but sometimes it’s fun to cap these months off with something more embarrassing. Next month, I’ll be looking at 4 war movies, each looking at a completely different war. I’m planning on looking at a bunch of cheesy, not so good Christian movies for December just for the fun of it. As for next year, I haven’t decided on everything yet, but there will be another hilariously bad movie month, January will probably be Western movie month, and I’m considering a month focusing on some of the biggest box-office disasters in history.