Is it possible for a movie that earned four Oscar nominations (including Best Picture) to qualify as underrated? ”The Green Mile” suggests so. Upon its December release, it garnered respectable but not rapturous reviews, did steady but unspectacular business (never reaching No. 1 at the box office), and failed to collect any Academy Awards. But like ”The Shawshank Redemption,” writer-director Frank Darabont’s other prison drama based on a Stephen King tale, ”Mile” may find its largest measure of appreciation on video.
In theaters, the three-hour running time may have seemed cruel and unusual for a film that lacks the epic sweep of, say, ”Titanic”: It’s the simple yet potent story of a 1935 Louisiana death-row guard (Tom Hanks) who befriends a condemned inmate (Michael Clarke Duncan) blessed with miraculous powers. But at home, you can pause the action without losing the narrative flow; after all, the book was originally published in six monthly installments.
Hanks’ low-key turn is on par with his career-best work in ”Saving Private Ryan,” and Duncan imbues a potentially stereotypical character – the saintly, servile African American – with a tangible human soul. Beautifully shot and elegantly spun, ”Mile ”proves a long walk to a worthwhile destination.