I could sit & listen to Morgan Freeman talk for hours. He has one of the greatest voices in the history of entertainment and is the definition of a late bloomer. Though he’d been a stage actor since the early 60’s & had some small, uncredited roles in forgettable films, the earliest work most remember him for is the PBS children’s educational series The Electric Company in the 1970’s. Even then, he didn’t really become a “movie star” until the 80’s when he was nearly 50 years old. To be honest his filmography is kind of hit & miss for me, so I gave sincere consideration to which of his works I’d enjoy spending a weekend watching. You may disagree with my choices, but I think the lineup presented here is solid. Freeman isn’t necessarily a leading man in the truest sense of that concept, but he makes anything he is in better.
I’m not into horror movies at all, and even thrillers aren’t really my thing. I much prefer something that’ll put a smile on my face. There are exceptions to every rule though. Seven follows two cops on the trail of a serial killer who uses the Seven Deadly Sins (pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed, & sloth) as a theme for his…work. The psychopath is portrayed by Kevin Spacey and the detectives are played by Freeman & Brad Pitt, so it’s probably fair to say that Freeman is a distant third when it comes to star power in the cast, which kind of proves my point. Seven would have done well at the box office with Pitt & Spacey as the headliners, but the presence of Morgan Freeman makes it a better movie. If you’ve never seen it I won’t spoil the ending, but wow…it’s really good.
Now You See Me
Perhaps I am one of the few who enjoys repeat viewings of this movie. It follows a group of magicians who use their skills to rob people & banks. Freeman portrays a jaded magician who now makes money exposing the secrets of magic. The cast includes Woody Harrelson, Michael Caine, Mark Ruffalo, and a few up & comers, so once again Morgan Freeman’s true role is to add gravitas to the ensemble, which is kind of his thing. Now You See Me has a tepid 50% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but finished 23rd at the box office in 2013, more than quadrupling its $75 million dollar budget. What that means is the stuffy, austere critics found all the flaws while Joe Sixpack just enjoyed watching a fun caper. A sequel came out a few years later, but wasn’t nearly as entertaining. I understand why Hollywood makes sequels, but sometimes lightning in a bottle just can’t be duplicated. It is my understanding that a third film is in development, and I hope it’s as slick & clever as the original, although I won’t hold my breath.
The Shawshank Redemption
Many people promote The Shawshank Redemption as one of the greatest films of all time, and I wouldn’t argue too vociferously with those folks. As mentioned, I tend to gravitate toward lighter, more breezy fare, so prison flicks don’t usually earn my attention, but you know the drill…there are exceptions. Shawshank is actually based on a Stephen King novella. I’ve never read the book, but cannot imagine it could be better than the movie. Morgan Freeman portrays Red Redding, who has been imprisoned for two decades when we first meet him for a double homicide that he admits he’s guilty of but now deeply regrets. Red becomes best buds with Andy Dufresne, a young banker wrongly convicted of killing his wife & her lover. Lots of bad things happen at the prison, which is led by a corrupt warden. Andy eventually escapes, and (spoiler alert) several years later Red is paroled and reunites with his friend. Shawshank received seven Academy Award nominations, including a Best Actor nod for Freeman, which was his third of five Oscar nominations (he’s won once). It didn’t do well at the box office at all, but became one of the earlier movies to find success thru video rentals & being shown on television with some frequency. It’s almost embarrassing to realize almost thirty years later that The Shawshank Redemption made less money in theaters than balderdash like Natural Born Killers, The Shadow, Jason’s Lyric, & House Party 3.
It feels appropriate to spend Sunday afternoon with a film in which Morgan Freeman plays God. Once again he’s not the star…it’s Jim Carrey’s show, but God seems like a role tailor made for Freeman. He helps guide Carrey’s Bruce, an unhappy TV reporter who blames his crappy life on God. That’s when The Big Guy shows up and offers Bruce an opportunity to be in charge for a few days. Hilarity ensues and Bruce (along with the audience) learns a few valuable lessons along the way. Critics were lukewarm in their reviews, but it was the fifth highest grossing film of 2003. It’s one of those movies that’ll amuse you for a couple of hours & make you chuckle, but won’t really make an impact on your memory.
Speaking of impact…
1998 saw the release of two movies in which an asteroid threatens the existence of life on Earth. Armageddon had the cooler movie stars and made a bunch more money (finishing a far distant second to the juggernaut that was Titanic), but I’ve always had a soft spot for Deep Impact. While the cast isn’t as popular as the competition (whatever happened to Tea Leoni??) Morgan Freeman is there as the President of the United States, another role that seems tailor made for him. What does Freeman do?? Say it with me now…he makes anything he is in better. I believe Deep Impact has superior writing & features better performances than Armageddon, and our guy contributes significantly to that perception. And oh by the way…it still finished 7th at the box office that year despite mixed reviews (45% on Rotten Tomatoes compared to 38% for Armageddon, so critics weren’t impressed with either film).