I'd always appreciated Tom Hanks as an actor, but this was the first film that I remember seeing that made me appreciate what a phenomenal talent he really is. It's a slow-burning story regarding the relationship between a group of prison guards and the inmates contained on death-row.
Based on a book of the same name by Stephen King, the film focuses on the arrival of a convicted 8ft tall African-American inmate at 'The Mile' who has been sentenced to death. Rather than fulfilling a ferocious stereotype, he instantly displays himself a gentle giant who is over-emotional and even afraid of the dark.
Hank's warden character builds an emotional rapport with the inmate, but is soon amazed by the otherworldly healing powers that he possesses. Coffee, played by Michael Clarke Duncan, seemingly has the ability to absorb ailments and illnesses out of a person, leaving them completely cured and during the film manages to bring a mouse back to life and cure Hanks of his Urinary Tract Infection. At one point, they smuggle the prisoner out of the jail at the expense of a sadistic new warden and take him to the terminally ill wife of their boss. Again he demonstrates his healing powers and cures her, before being transported back to jail to await execution. The final scenes in the prison are extremely emotional and Hanks conveys the kind of emotional range that highlights his superb abilities as an actor.
The story is told retroactively in the form of a flashback from Hank's character who, decades into the future, is still alive and well - an occurrence he attributes to the extraordinary healing powers of John Coffee that he encountered all those years ago. The film concludes with him proving the details of his story by producing the mouse that Coffee also bought back to life, before dwelling on the fact that although he has lived a healthy and long life, he has had to watch everyone around him die - something he describes as a 'punishment from God for killing one of his angels'. The ultimate conclusion reinforces this observation, when the woman he was telling the story to also passes. Totally tragic stuff, a real tear-jerker!