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David Dow is a death penalty lawyer in Texas – this must be one of the hardest jobs to do, *especially* in Texas. He believes that the death penalty is always wrong and fights to save his clients’ lives, while acknowledging that the vast majority of them are guilty of their crimes. He freely admits that he doesn’t like a lot of his clients but he is compelled to do what he believes is right.

This book however, while discussing other death penalty cases, focuses mainly on the case of Henry Quaker, a man who is convicted of murdering his wife and children – and who was almost certainly innocent of the crime. In discussing the various measures that David and his team take to try and save Quaker’s life, some deeply uncomfortable truth about the justice system are revealed. Quaker was a poor black man with a deeply incompetent trial lawyer. Despite there being another very viable suspect, and several reasons why Quaker almost certainly did not commit the crime, the lawyer failed to disclose any of this at the trial. Indeed, the book talks about public defender lawyers who literally go to sleep in the middle of trial.

I am completely against the death penalty in any and all circumstances, so I was also predisposed to be drawn into this book (I can’t say I enjoyed it, and it’s not a book that is really meant to be enjoyed, but it needs to be read). However, whatever anyone’s views, the truths about the ‘justice’ system revealed here should make anyone feel uncomfortable about the death penalty. I felt angry and frustrated learning about how bureaucracy and red tape, the laziness of judges, the incompetence of lawyers all have more to do with someone’s fate than the evidence for or against them.

The author also talks about his home life with his wife and young son. He has a lovely family and he acknowledges this. But there is no doubt that the job he does would have an effect on anybody, and he includes snapshots of their lives to illustrate this.

I recommend this book very highly. It is not always an easy read, but it is as compelling as any novel and the lessons contained within need to be heard.

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This is the film adaptation of Stephen King’s book of the same name.  It stars Michael Clarke Duncan in his most famous and memorable role as John Coffey, a child inside a huge man’s body, who comes to death row in 1935 (1932 in the book) having been found guilty of raping and murdering two young girls.  Tom Hanks plays Paul Edgecomb, the chief warden on the wing, who sees the apparent healing power that Coffey has, and starts to doubt whether he is in fact guilty of the crime with which he has been charged.

To say more about the plot would probably be to give too much away – this is really a film which people should discover for themselves.  However, if you are familiar with the book, you will find that this is a very faithful adaptation of it.  At just over three hours long, I put off watching this film for a long time; I often struggle to concentrate with films that are two hours or more – but The Green Mile did not feel long at all.  Every minute was essential to the telling of the story, and the time flew by.

Tom Hanks was already a double Oscar winner when he made this film, and he is excellent here.  However, he is also generous, and lets the talent of the rest of the cast shine through.  It’s unusual to find a film where every single cast member is truly excellent, but that is what we have here.  David Morse, Barry Pepper and Jeffrey DeMunn play Edgecomb’s colleagues.  They are also his friends, and like him, are compassionate and not always comfortable with the job they have to do.  Doug Hutchison was perfectly cast as Whetmore, a prison guard with a cold streak of nastiness running through him.  Michael Jeter and Sam Rockwell play two very different prisoners on death row – the first, Eduard Delacroix (Jeter) despite whatever (unspecified) crime he did to end up on death row, is a mild-mannered man, trying to make the best of his situation; the second Wild Bill Wharton (Rockwell, in a blisteringly good performance) is pure evil.  But the real acting plaudits must surely go to Michael Clarke Duncan for his measured, and, frankly heartbreaking turn as John Coffey.  Rarely do I cry so much at films, but Duncan’s acting was just so utterly believable and powerful that I found myself absolutely sobbing.  How on earth he did not get the Oscar for this role, I will never be able to understand.

The story, despite the aforementioned length, is compelling throughout.  I would recommend having handkerchiefs at the ready, because this film will make you cry – but it absolutely is a ‘must-see’ movie.  A deeply moving story, with excellent performances from all involved.  Just superb.

Year of release: 1999

Director: Frank Darabont

Producers: Frank Darabont, David Valdes

Writers: Stephen King (book), Frank Darabont

Main cast: Tom Hanks, Michael Clarke Duncan, David Morse, Barry Pepper, Jeffrey DeMunn, Doug Hutchison, Sam Rockwell, Michael Jeter, James Cromwell Bonnie Hunt

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Click here for my review of the novel.

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