The seminal film about sticking up to the man, and probably Paul Newman’s most iconic role, Cool Hand Luke is one of those indelible slices of American cinema, and it’s no wonder it made the must see list. Newman plays the titular Luke, a grubby, no-nonsense minor offender whose “take no crap from anybody” mindset gets him into progressively worse and worse trouble when he is incarcerated in a prison work camp, where the guards regularly harp down on the inmates as sport and recreation, and to keep them in line. Well, Luke isn’t one to keep in line, and this natural incubator of conflict provides a great heap of entertainment value; truly, the screenwriters knew what they were doing when they wrote this one, and they justly got an Academy Award nomination for their work.
What makes Cool Hand Luke so iconic isn’t the cinematography, as good as it is, or the production value, which while not overly abundant is extremely well-utilized, or even the script, which is damn near perfect in its evocation of a down-South prison culture, or what would amount to it, at least. No, it’s the attitude that makes this so memorable, the “don’t give a fuck” mentality that rang so resonantly with the youth of the 1960s; the counter-culture easily adopted this film as the perfect symbolist message for what they were trying to get across, that conforming to “the man” and following his orders was just the uncool thing to do. Of course, the film wouldn’t nearly be what it is without those elements I’ve laid down above, not to mention the absolutely dead-on acting from Newman, George Kennedy, and the rest of the inmates and cast.
This is one that, for whatever reason, I find understandable if you have yet to see it. Even still, though, if you haven’t, this is definitely one to put on or near the top of your list to see in the near future. Even for it’s admittedly bleak outcome and sometimes harsh treatment of its characters, the film has such a jovial spirit about itself that you can’t help but be entertained, especially in the seemingly inconsequential bits like the 50 eggs bet or the road-paving scene. Each is a part of a bigger whole, and as a whole, Cool Hand Luke is immensely satisfying in just about every way a film can be.
By the way, I love the film’s tagline on that poster up there, if you can read it. One of the best I’ve seen.
Arbitrary Rating: 9/10