In a Louisiana Retirement Home in 1999, Paul Edgecomb begins to cry while watching the film Top Hat. His friend Elaine becomes concerned, and Paul explains to her that the film reminded him of the events of 1935, which took place when he was a Prison Officer, in charge of death row, which they referred to as the “Green Mile”.
In 1935, Paul supervises officers Brutus Howell, Dean Stanton, Harry Terwilliger and Percy Wetmore at Cold Mountain Penitentiary. Paul is suffering from a severe bladder infection and receives John Coffey, a physically imposing but mentally challenged black man, into his custody. John had been sentenced to death after being convicted of raping and murdering two white girls. One of the other inmates is a Native-American named Arlen Bitterbuck, who is charged with murder and is the first to be executed. Percy demonstrates a severe sadistic streak, but, as the nephew of Louisiana’s First Lady, he cannot be held to account. He is particularly abusive with inmate Eduard Delacroix; he breaks Del’s fingers with his baton, steps on a pet mouse named Mr Jingles, which Del had adopted, repeatedly calls him by a gay slur and ultimately sabotages his execution by failing to soak the sponge used to conduct electricity to Del’s head; Del dies screaming in pain.
John begins to demonstrate supernatural powers; he cures Paul’s bladder infection, resurrects Mr Jingles and heals Melinda Moores, wife of the prison’s chief warden, of a brain tumour. This last affliction he releases into Percy, who under its influence shoots another prisoner, mass murderer William Wharton, dead. Wharton had from the moment of his arrival been a troublemaker; he assaulted the guards as he was being escorted into the block, made mischief on two occasions that later caused Paul to order him restrained in the block’s padded cell, groped Percy, racially insulted John, and revealed psychically to John that he is, in fact, responsible for the crime for which John was condemned. John then reveals the story psychically to Paul, and, when doing so, he also releases his supernatural energy into Paul. Meanwhile, Percy is committed to the insane asylum.
Although distraught over the notion of being executed while innocent, John tells Paul that he does, in fact, wish to die, as he views the world as a cruel place. Mentioning that he had never seen a movie before, John watches Top Hat with the other guards as a last request. John is executed that night but refuses the customary hood, as he is afraid of the dark. Paul concludes his story by telling Elaine that John’s was the last execution that he and Brutus supervised; following Coffey’s execution, they both took jobs in the juvenile system.
Elaine realizes that, since he had a grown son in 1935, Paul must be much older than he looks. Paul reveals that he is, in fact, 108 years of age. Not only is he still alive, so is Del’s mouse, Mr Jingles. Paul then muses that if John’s power could make a mouse live for as long as Mr Jingles has, how much longer does he himself have left?
The film was written and directed by Frank Darabont and adapted from the 1996 Stephen King novel of the same name. It stars Tom Hanks as Paul Edgecomb and Michael Clarke Duncan as John Coffey, with supporting roles by David Morse, Bonnie Hunt and James Cromwell. The film also features Dabbs Greer in his final film, as the older Paul Edgecomb.
The film received positive reviews from critics, and was nominated for four Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor for Michael Clarke Duncan, Best Sound Mixing and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Michael Clarke Duncan credited his casting to Bruce Willis, with whom he had worked on the film Armageddon a year earlier. According to Duncan, Willis introduced him to Darabont after hearing of the open call for John Coffey.