Monday, December 24, 2012

Cool Hand Luke (1967) review

Paul Newman is one of the biggest movie starts to hit the screen after 1960. The age where the big stars were gone and the French New Wave cinema was coming in was beginning and the biggest films didn't necessarily have the biggest stars. Newman starred in tons of films and remains an iconic figure. He was in three era defining films: Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, The Sting, and Cool Hand Luke. And after watching all three, I can say that Cool Hand Luke is his best film and his best performance. I loved almost every minute of Cool Hand Luke but don't ask me why. Just like 2001: A Space Odyssey, it just has this weird quality about it that is so entertaining. But Cool Hand Luke even surpasses 2001 in entertainment value (although 2001 is a great film, it isn't all that entertaining), it just has this quality about it that doesn't involve action, or dialogue or even acting. It's just a great film.

Cool Hand Luke centers on the title character Luke Jackson (Newman) who is sentenced to around two years in prison for cutting off the heads of parking meters while under the influence. His prison is the home of a chain gang who's leader is Dragline (George Kennedy). Luke at first has trouble adjusting to life in the prison but eventually becomes a sort of idol for the prisoners and after many escape attempts, is pretty much their leader. The prisoners love him, but the guards don't and he is beaten senselessly multiple times.

That's pretty much it. There isn't a whole lot in terms of story but a whole lot in terms of entertainment value. Newman delivers an amazing performance as Luke and he fits right into the character. He is extremely subtle though and doesn't have a lot crazy moments or even much dialogue on screen. The flashiest performance belongs to George Kennedy as Dragline who also steals the show. He begins as a sort of villain but eventually becomes friends with Luke and a sentimental and good character.

Cool Hand Luke is an amazing film because it does so much with so little. It doesn't have much of a story but is one of the great entertainments not because of mindless action or corny dialogue but because it has characters that you care about and moves along at an extremely fast pace. It's depiction of prison life is both harsh and tender at the same time. I think that that was another one of the things that I found really interesting was the film's depiction of prison. I hadn't really ever seen a prison movie before and I thought that this film's depiction of it was very interesting and fun to watch.

One of the best things about Cool Hand Luke is that I came away with a lot of questions during and after watching the film. Why did Luke want to escape so badly? He had friends in the prison, it wasn't like he was miserable. What is the film saying about Luke's rebellious behavior. Maybe the film is a commentary on the Vietnam War protests of the time. I don't really know much about this film so I found it interesting to disect the themes. One thing I can say for sure is that I loved Cool Hand Luke and will be revisiting it again and again.

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