After the last few movies I've watched, the beginning of this classic prison movie had me worried I was in for another round of grim gloom. Certainly things start dark and get darker. But I was hoping that the title's promise of redemption might brighten the tone before the movie was over.
Incidentally, in terms of brightness, I hadn't really realized how dark Taxi Driver was in the cinematographical sense until the sharp contrast. Nearly every scene, even the daytime scenes, in Taxi Driver has a sort of dark and jaundiced quality, because that's the visual style they were going for. (Either that, or I just got a bad rip. But I don't think so.) Even though there was a lot of gloom in The Shawshank Redemption, the imagery was crisp and usually well-lit -- even in the dark you could see stuff.
I don't think there's a single thing about The Shawshank Redemption with which I can find fault. A friend, who'd read the book, said that the pacing in the movie seemed wrong. I can well imagine that it might be different from the book, and therefore wrong in that it conveys a different feel or a different story from the book. But taken on its own, I didn't find any problems with the pacing. Nor with anything else. Well, once or twice it's a little cloying, but in a very minor way.
The movie also managed to pull a switcheroo on me that was surprisingly effective. It was clear something was going to happen, and it was clear that we'd been seeing things that were setting it up, but it was also clear that the movie was telegraphing a direction for the story that it just wasn't going to go. This was a decoy; no one was fooled, but it did distract enough so that the actual way the story went, despite having been visibly set up in front of us all along, was not obvious.
The subject matter does somewhat circumscribe how great I can find the movie, and this is not something I'll ever feel a great draw to return to; but within those bounds, it's a solid, appealing movie.