Review Rewind: ‘Cool Hand Luke’

The Movie: “Cool Hand Luke”

The Year: 1967

The People: Paul Newman as Luke Jackson (but given the nickname ‘Cool Hand Luke’), the prison’s newcomer who builds up a reputation, George Kennedy as Dragline, the high-spirited machismo of the prison who comes to idolize Cool Hand Luke and Strother Martin as the warden who reveals himself to be increasingly sinister, known as ‘The Captain.’

The Non-revealing Plot: Luke Jackson is imprisoned for destroying municipal property. Aside from this introductory scene, and a few failed attempts at escape, the entirety of the film takes place in a Florida prison. Luke finds himself starting at the bottom but, thanks to his devilish smile and fearlessness, quickly becomes something of an idolized spectacle for the other prisoners, especially Dragline.

The Unofficial Genre: An anti-hero, prison drama coated in religious imagery.

My Opinion (Emotional): The film leaves it ambiguous as to how one is supposed to feel about its main character. Luke’s sheer commitment to not following the “rules and regulations” of society or of the prison is admirable. He’s a charming, character and his scintillating appeal works to convince viewers to see him the same way his fellow prisoners do — as a model for nobility in a struggle against the institutional incapacitation. However, it could be argued that Luke is more threatening than he is a martyr. Generally, we feel sympathy towards characters wrongfully put in hard situations — much like Tim Robbins’ Andy Dufresne in “The Shawshank Redemption” (1994). The difference in “Cool Hand Luke” is that Luke is rightfully imprisoned. No one watching wants Luke to be harmed, but they would not say that he is innocent. He initially enjoys the prison, as he’s able to show off his mischievous, rowdy side all while riling up support from his prison mates. However, he just as easily allows his inmate followers to lose their faith in him, as he submits to the authority of the prison guards. It becomes clear that Luke does not take life seriously because he does not care about maintaining a situation that is going well for him. He only has to serve a couple of years without causing a ruckus, and then he’s free. He tries, unsuccessfully, to escape three times. I was frustrated by Luke in equal amount despite admiring his chutzpah.

My Opinion (Technical): The technical aspects of this film are not overly impressive. The camerawork is slightly interesting, if not relatively standard. The score is generally good, except for one escape scene of Luke’s where the mixture of instruments and sounds is bizarre and jarring. The direction and editing are by far the worst aspects of the film. Although, the acting is superb. Newman is excellent in the lead role, and Kennedy steals the show, creating a memorable, unique character.

Overall Rating: The characters, acting and story are what make this film good, but the behind-the-scenes work is not up-to-par. I’d give this movie a 7.3/10.

If You Like This, You’ll Also Like:Rebel Without A Cause” (1955) and “The Shawshank Redemption” (1994).