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Soundtrack review: The Shawshank redemption (Thomas Newman – 1995, 2016)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: The Shawshank redemption (Thomas Newman – 1995, 2016)


It might sound cliché but “The Shawshank Redemption” is one of my favorite movies of all time. I know many consider it to be on their best of lists and rightfully so. It’s a beautiful and heartfelt story coming from the unlikely pen of Stephen King. Frank Darabont, Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins turned the story into a superb movie and every time I watch it I get a special feeling of love and peace. The plot description is always dry… Andy Dufresne, a banker who is sentenced to life in Shawshank State Penitentiary for the murder of his wife and her lover, despite his claims of innocence. During his time at the prison, he befriends a fellow inmate, Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding, and finds himself protected by the guards after the warden begins using him in his money-laundering operation. The film is so much more than that…but you probably already saw it.

Thomas Newman wrote the score and in 2016 it got the well-deserved expanded treatment from La La Land. He is one of the composers who for the past 25 years have developed a unique and easily identifiable style. He rarely strays from it and has perfected the sound. His light piano musings don’t always work for me but in this case, with this story, it was the best possible score. Yes the story is set in a prison but there’s light in there, there’s sun and a warm feeling as Andy tries to make the best of his time there. For me this score is one of eternal breezy summer. I remember it as I would remember a summer afternoon’s wind that made me feel out of time.

The main theme is among the best and most sensitive Thomas Newman ever wrote. I’ve first heard it 20 years ago and I haven’t forgotten it. It’s about as good as anything Alan Sivestri wrote for “Forest Gump” for example. It’s light but it goes deep; it’s simple but it evokes a lot of emotions. This “stoic theme” has both light and shadow and matches the general mood of “The Shawshank Redemption”. I also haven’t forgotten the sadness the piano plays in “New fish”. It’s a theme that recurs towards the end as well when Andy is telling us how he escaped. It’s also appears in “Carves names” and it’s my favorite motif from the movie. I think it’s also in my top 5 Thomas Newman themes because it’s the best kind of reflective emotional music.

Besides these two recurring main themes we also get darker moments when the composer tells us about the bad things that happen to Andy in prison and playful twists of the piano themes for the more comedic instances in the movie. There’s always something that sounds like a harmonica to punctuate the fun.

Nostalgia is what makes this score very enjoyable to me. The music wouldn’t necessarily stand on its own but as I hear the sweet piano in cues like “Sisters” I remember how the music fit in the movie and I am immersed in the warm and fuzzy feeling of comfort given by the memories. For me the core feeling of the movie is that scene on the roof of the building when the inmates were enjoying beer and the illusion of freedom. That’s where the music always takes me and this is why I love the score so much.

I’ve always been more drawn to quiet music. it speaks better to me, it mirrors the way I am. Thomas Newman knows like no other to write quiet and light music and “The Shawshank Redemption” is one of the instances where nobody else could have delivered a better score. This is the composer who can write summer best and this is one of his crowning achievements. LLL gave a wonderful gift to nostalgics of the movie and to fans of Newman. I hope “American Beauty” someday gets the same treatment.

Cue rating: 88 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 40 / 72

Album excellence: 55%


Shawshank Prison (Stoic Theme)

New Fish


May** [Extended Version]

Suds On The Roof



Brooks Was Here** [Extended Version]

Kid Passed* / Wild Injuns*


Longest Night*

And That Right Soon

Compass And Guns* [Film Version]

So Was Red

End Title

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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