Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Cool Hand Luke (1967)

TOP 100 FILMS: #66

Recently sent to a prison camp, Luke (Paul Newman) struggles with authority, and finds himself an unlikely folk hero of the fellow prisoners for his escape attempts, and cool attitude.

Lots of films I've seen that people consider classic I admire but don't necessarily enjoy, Cool Hand Luke would definitely be everything that those films aren't. With a deep central character in Luke, whose decisions we don't always understand, we're put on a bit of a journey through his life. We spend time watching his antics, his poker skills, his egg eating capabilities, and the creative ways in which he comes up with to escape. At the same time our opening scene gives us some great, and yet incredibly odd, insight into the man. Here we see Luke, casually walking down a street destroying parking meters. Why does he do this, why is a man wasting time, and risking prison to do something that random... that's where our journey starts.

Aided by his opponent turned friend, the not so bright Dagline (George Kennedy), we are given an opportunity to see Luke's eyes through not only his, but his observers as well. Paul Newman has always had a sort of cool nature about him in his films. He's seldom the overreacting character, often level headed, and as such he's perfect for the role. Kennedy is wonderful as the off beat side kick who becomes our narrator, and provides us with some great insight into a character as complex as Luke. At the same time, we have the warden and captain who seek to break Luke of his wild ways.

As villains they're not necessarily deep, but they represent an idea greater than themselves. They represent the breaking of someone who just wants pure freedom. This is a very dangerous road to go as more often than not the villains just come off as cheesy, and uncreative. Yet, with careful writing Pearce and Pierson manage to avoid this pitfall by not making them the real villains. Instead, captivity becomes the villain. Holding someone back from what they seek to be in favor of removing their individuality. In that respect Cool Hand Luke shine, bringing out a character as memorable as the idol he becomes.

Smooth, well told, and captivating, Cool Hand Luke is a masterpiece in character study, with one of the most subtle, and yet memorable, you'll ever find.

2 better thoughts:

The Mad Hatter said...

Great piece on a truly great film. Just felt like sharing this:

When I started working at the company I'm at now, I worked with a bunch of guys who were big fans of COOL HAND LUKE.

They especially liked how the chain gang hollered out permission for every little move they were making:

"Takin' em off boss!" "Wipin' it down boss!" etc

We of course incorperated that into our daily routine:

"Filing the forms boss!" "Swiping the credit card boss!"

"Commenting on a blog boss!"
Good times.

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