Greenfingers Movie Review

My summer was recently saved by two very different movies. On opening night, I saw American Pie 2 and laughed like a moron. Then a few nights later, I watched and thoroughly enjoyed Joel Hershman's Greenfingers even though it didn't feature a trip to band camp, girl-on-girl action, or Seann William Scott.

However, I felt just as good leaving American Pie 2 as I did after leaving Greenfingers, which tells the offbeat tale of British murderer Colin Briggs (Clive Owen of Croupier). After spending roughly half of his life behind bars, he is transferred to a more lenient facility, Edgefield. The picaresque, rustic prison allows its inmates to learn a trade, while enjoying accommodations generally found at most colleges.

At first, Briggs doesn't want to be there. He's used to living as a prisoner and wants to be left alone. However, his ailing roommate, Fergus (David Kelly of Waking Ned Devine), wears Briggs down through his benign nature. The two become friends, with Fergus giving Colin a packet of violet seeds as a Christmas gift.

Briggs is astonished when the violets grow in the limestone soil, and begins a fight with three other prisoners when an errant soccer ball smashes his beloved flowers. After the prison's governor (Warren Clarke) reprimands them, he's awed at what Briggs has accomplished. And he's struck by an idea -- Briggs, Fergus and the other men will grow a garden on the prison's grounds.

Greenfingers, which is "inspired by actual events," becomes a bit like a sports movie after that. Despite their differences, the men come together and through hard work and love earn a spot at the big game -- in this case a prestigious garden show. One renegade, in this case, Briggs, will prove to have talent. Of course, love will also rear its head (no, not "prison love"). To Hershman's credit, he doesn't pump up the drama or try for cheap laughs, like last year's lame marijuana comedy Saving Grace. I had to keep pinching myself when I didn't see a single scene of a hardened con sneezing over a pot of pansies, or the men giving high-fives over a particularly stunning batch of wildflowers.

The movie deals with people and scores on that concept. It's wonderful seeing Briggs turn from a bitter prisoner to a man who cares again. Give credit to Owen for keeping his cool in a part that begs for overacting. His speech to the parole board about being reborn through gardening is the best scene of its kind since Morgan Freeman's last stand in The Shawshank Redemption. Owen's bedside scenes with Kelly, who lends the film a human touch, are a marvel to behold, emotionally gripping without being sappy.

Written by Hershman, Greenfingers contains plenty of laughs. Most come courtesy of Helen Mirren, who shines as the world-class gardener who works with the inmates but fears for her daughter Primrose (Natasha Little) when she starts dating Briggs. The mother can't believe what he'll do if her daughter "burns the Sunday roast."

Nothing is forced in Greenfingers. The funny lines come forth naturally in conversations and not from punch lines. Primrose and Briggs' relationship takes awkward steps. Even when Briggs decides to go back to Edgefield, it's done for reasons of loyalty, not because the movie requires him to do so. After grimacing through the forced screwball antics of movies like America's Sweethearts and The Princess Dairies, it's an almost indescribable pleasure to see a director taking his time to tell a story very well.

All thumbs. Green thumbs.


Greenfingers Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: R, 2001


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