Oscar Month continues today with 1975's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. The drama took home five Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director (Milos Forman), Best Actor (Jack Nicholson), Best Actress (Louise Fletcher) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Laurence Hauben and Bo Goldman). The film was nominated for an additional four Oscars for Best Supporting Actor (Brad Dourif), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing and Best Original Score. This was my first time watching this film and I absolutely adored it. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is paced perfectly with two towering performances and a terrific ending. It's a classic.
One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest tells the story of Randle McMurphy (Jack Nicholson), a convict who is sent to a mental institution for evaluation. McMurphy is clearly not insane, but manages to shake things up with the patients in the hospital and becomes the instant enemy of Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher). Along with Billy Bibbit (Brad Dourif), Cheswick (Sydney Lassick) and Chief Bromden (Will Sampson), McMurphy establishes anarchy at an institution run on order and fear. Eventually, McMurphy's wild side gets the best of him and the anarchic fun turns vicious, intense and deadly.
One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest is a movie that should not be likable. Most of the characters are mentally unstable and get on your nerves in the beginning. There was a scene early in this film that made me think that I would absolutely hate the movie. I was wrong. One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest comes to life because of terrific performances and how the film makes its characters come alive. The people in this movie are not merely mentally insane patients: they're human beings who can have fun if they're not repressed. Each character has their own heart and soul and that's one of the best things about this movie.
The acting in this movie is brilliant. It really is absolutely brilliant. Each actor does a terrific job bringing his or her character to life and it's one of the things that make this movie so great. Jack Nicholson is obviously the standout. He gives what's probably his best performance as McMurphy in this film. He has a manic, frightening energy to him in each scene. Nicholson has giving some truly great performances in his career (Chinatown, The Shining), but I'm not sure that any tops this one. Louise Fletcher is also terrific as the villainous Nurse Ratched, a despicable, deplorable woman who you absolutely hate. She's an awful person and Fletcher breathes life into her and it makes for one spectacular performance. The supporting cast is also magnificent. Brad Dourif is great as Billy, Will Sampson is brilliant as the Chief and even Scatman Crothers shows up for a brief, but memorable turn.
The pacing in this movie is also perfect. There isn't a true narrative in this film. There's no point A to point B. It's strongly rooted in the characters and that's a great thing. However, director Milos Forman really paced this movie well. It never moves too fast. It's actually a pretty slow film. But each scene is so alive and is filled with so much energy that you're never bored by the leisurely pace. Forman makes almost unbearable discussions between unstable characters compelling, entertaining and sometimes even funny.
The filmmaking on this movie is also so, so good. It's filmed very much in the same way that The Shining is and that's a stroke of genius. Forman completely deserved to win the Oscar. The camera doesn't shake around too much; it lets the scenes develop and that makes the film even more compelling. I can't quite describe the level of mastery involved with the direction in this film, but when you see it, you'll understand what I mean.
One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest also has one of the best endings for a movie that I've ever seen. I don't want to spoil anything, but at the end of the movie, something bad has happened and it's pretty sad. However, the ending manages to turn itself around fast and it's uplifting, joyous and perfect. I was extremely happy at the end of this movie.
All in all, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest is an absolutely brilliant film and one that totally deserved to beat out classics like Dog Day Afternoon, Barry Lyndon, Nashville and Jaws (though saying that Cuckoo's Nest is better than Jaws is hard). It may take a while to get used to the characters, but in the end, this film is worth it. One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest is an American classic and will be for years to come. I loved it.
THE FINAL GRADE: A+