Over the weekend, two convicted killers escaped from a maximum-security prison in New York after using power tools to drill through steel walls and pipes and leaving behind decoy dummies as they popped out of a manhole beyond the prison walls. It was an elaborate, brazen breakout that earned countless comparisons to a certain Hollywood film.
“A sensational ‘Shawshank Redemption’-style prison break,” New York Daily News wrote.
“Daring ‘Shawshank Redemption’-style escape,” the New York Post said.
“An epic prison break that brings to mind the film The Shawshank Redemption,” said Mashable.
The Associated Press even wrote a whole story about it: “How real-life prison escape compares with ‘Shawshank.'”
But at least one person especially well-versed in the details of the “Shawshank” escape thinks the comparisons are … not the greatest.
“Yeah, okay, that was a movie,” “Shawshank” star Tim Robbins told Conan O’Brien on Monday. “This is real life.”
In real life, more than 250 law enforcement officers using bloodhounds and helicopters are searching for 48-year-old Richard Matt and 34-year-old David Sweat in a massive manhunt in the area around Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York. “Additional investigative services are being applied statewide and nationally,” according to New York State Police.
The two escaped killers are “dangerous individuals,” said Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). Sweat is serving a sentence of life without parole after he was convicted of killing a sheriff’s deputy in 2002. Matt was convicted of three counts of murder and kidnapping and is serving a sentence of 25 years to life for the death of a man in 1997.
In the 1994 Frank Darabont movie (adapted from a Stephen King novella), Robbins played Andy Dufresne, who was convicted of two murders he didn’t commit.
“In 1966, Andy Dufresne escaped from Shawshank Prison,” explained the film’s narrator, Red (Morgan Freeman). “All they found of him was a muddy set of prison clothes, a bar of soap and an old rock hammer, damn near worn down to the nub. I remember thinking it would take a man 600 years to tunnel through the wall with it. Old Andy did it in less than 20.”
Andy, Red said, “crawled through a river of s— and came out clean on the other side.”
“For me, it’s a different story,”
Dufresne Robbins said on “Conan.” “Andy was innocent.”
He noted: “I don’t think there’s much of a story there.”
“There’s no other parallel” beyond the escapes, O’Brien said.
But that hasn’t stopped people (including O’Brien!) from asking about it.
“It’s like calling Leo DiCaprio every time a boat sinks,” the TBS late-night host said. “Leo, what do you think?”
“Actually, those two guys called me about a month ago,” Robbins joked at one point, referring to the real-life convicts. “‘What’s your advice on this?’ I said: ‘Alternate clothing.’ ”
The superficial comparisons are dangerous, a Peirce College criminal justice professor told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.
“The comparison to the movie desensitizes the public,” Robert Brzenchek told the newspaper. “People get the perception that this is like a movie, nothing can happen to me. But this is real life. These people will kill you in a minute to get away.”
As the newspaper asked in a separate story: “How bad are these escaped killers?”
The answer: “Bad.”
“These are killers; they are murderers,” Cuomo said. “There has never been a question about the crimes they committed.”
This isn’t the first time a true-crime story has been compared to “The Shawshank Redemption.”
Just last month, this headline appeared in The Washington Post:
It told the story of felon Frank Freshwaters, who disappeared from an “honor camp” in Ohio in 1959 and spent most of the next 56 years on the lam.
“Someone came up to me and said: Hey, they caught the ‘Shawshank’ guy,” Robbins told O’Brien. “No, that was a book by Stephen King. It wasn’t a real person. … That’s not the real guy.”
He added: “Fiction. Reality.”