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Life

Starting as a 1930s gangster caper, this quickly turns into a broad prison comedy about two chalk 'n' cheese black men - motor-mouthed con-man Ray (Murphy) and grouchy, would-be bank clerk Claude (Lawrence) - flung together by cruel chance and Southern racism. Stuck with one another for life, they enjoy a 60-year vacation on a Mississippi prison farm as the result of a trumped up murder charge, their habitual 'odd couple' antagonism disguising a grudging respect that deepens with time. Demme soft pedals the harshness of the prison regime, with gruelling work leavened with ribaldry, baseball, barbecues and conjugal visits. But the tone slowly darkens, as the years of false imprisonment, failed escapes and frustrated dreams take their toll. At its most ambitious, this echoes The Shawshank Redemption. Rick Baker's ageing make-up effects are striking, but would not have worked without the leads' subtly effective changes in posture, movement and speech. The feelgood ending is signposted, but the restrained performances still convey a powerful sense of dignity in the face of hardship and injustice.

Release details

Duration: 109 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Ted Demme
Screenwriter: Robert Ramsey, Matthew Stone
Cast: Eddie Murphy
Martin Lawrence
Obba Babatundé
Ned Beatty
Bernie Mac
Miguel A Nuñez Jr
Clarence Williams III
Bokeem Woodbine
R Lee Ermey
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