Saturday, January 29, 2011

Cool Hand Luke: Film Review...

Back to a good film this week.

Make that a fantastic film.  Even while watching Cool Hand Luke I thought of Jack Nicholson's character from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and to find out afterward that numerous others have made the same comparison lets me know I haven't completely lost my film analysis skills after all these years.

The film itself is a bit choppy at first as Luke is imprisoned and introduced to the prison population but after Luke (Newman) and Dragline (Academy Award winning role for George Kennedy), the top dog as far as the prisoners go, bond together, the film moves with proper pace and clarity.

Newman's loner, Luke, is the prototypical non-conformist.  He is a war hero, yet had obvious discipline problems that resulted in his demotion (discharge?).  Luke is intelligent and crafty and yet evidently can't keep a job or a relationship.  His mother loves him dearly but knows he is fated to a cruel end.  The Christ-like imagery surrounding Luke beats you over the head at times in the film and isn't needed for the viewer to know early on that despite the humor in the film and constant smile on Newman's face, how things will turn out.

Newman and George Kennedy's charisma both with the camera and each other is palpable and comes across like few relationships in film while other supporting actors provide excellent backup--Dennis Hopper, Wayne Rogers, Harry Dean Stanton, etc.

One point brought up elsewhere that I found insightful surrounds the realism found in this film.  If this movie was done today the chain gang scenes would be shot with "strategically placed" sweat and dirt on the actors and likely would be shot on some back lot in Hollywood with masseuses and on site catering just off camera.  Not here.  Newman, Kennedy and the rest, I have no doubt, really did bust their hump and get truly filthy in the process of shoveling dirt, cutting weeds and mopping tar as part of their fictional chain gang.  Newman was a strict devotee of method acting and one would doubt he would have "faked" much of the stress, sunburns and beatings he takes in this film.

There really is so much more here that could be delved into--the homosexual overtones (shocking given its a "prison film" right?), Luke's relationship with his mother/brother, how the film fits into the 1960's atmosphere, etc., but really, just go and enjoy what a wonderful film this is.

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