Cool Hand Luke (1967)
This word springs to the screen when "Cool Hand Luke" begins. Not only is it foreshadowing, but it is also condemning the actions of the drunken main man, named Luke (Paul Newman). He is intoxicated and has decided that it would be a good idea to cut the tops off of parking meters. He has cut down three or four and then collapses to the curb as policemen pull up.
This little adventure has landed Luke two years in jail. Luke is sentenced to be part of a Southern chain-gang—he will have to work as well as be in the adult version of timeout.
Upon arrival at the prison, even the Captain (Strother Martin), a warden figure, seems skeptical of the reasons for why Luke is here. Luke is standing next to accidental murderers, thieves, and arsonists—his crime seems somewhat trivial in comparison. But the Captain is determined that everyone will be treated as equals...there is a severe form of government in the jail.
A night in the box—the punishment that suits every occasion and is the one that you certainly don't want put upon you. The box is a tight little outhouse-looking building. It's tall and too narrow for a man to lay down in, it probably heats up when the sun is at its peak.
If you don't hang on to your spoon, if you mix your sheets up, if you complain too much, if you seem begrudging, if you don't follow orders—all of these infractions will land you a night in the box.
The rules and regulations are spelled out for Luke on his first night. He smiles and shakes his head at the absurdity of all the strict rules.
The men of the jail are a community, not the guards but the inmates. They have a leader, Dragline (George Kennedy), who says what goes. No man is called by his real name—he is given a nickname that Dragline will determine. Because of Luke's stand-off attitude, he doesn't immediately receive a prison name. Instead, the nicknames vary and fluctuate as Dragline tries to figure out Luke, a task that seems quite impossible.
As the days wear on, the labor increases. The men have to work on the roads, clearing weeds and digging ditches. Out in the real world, they are overseen by a mysterious man named Boss Godfrey (Morgan Woodward) who always wears a hat and aviator sun glasses. He never speaks and has an errand boy run back and forth to fetch him his gun whenever he needs it.
In the prison, men are to refer to any one of their superiors as "boss", a title that looses its charm very quickly. The prison is incredibly well-worked. It's meticulous and vigorous only because those are the methods that seem to work the best.
The men have to have permission to do everything. They need to ask if it's okay to take their shirts off, to take a drink of water, to walk around a truck, to smoke a cigarette—nothing goes unnoticed or unregulated.
The Captain seems like a Big Brother character, he tells the men that their punishment and treatment will be dependent on their behavior and that (much like a parent) chastising the prisoners hurts him as much as it hurts them.
Luke is a calm person, methodically contradicting those in authority. During a game of poker, through bluffing and collected-ness, he receives his moniker of "cool hand Luke".
"Cool Hand Luke" feels like "Bonnie and Clyde" because of the bleak landscape and the few central characters. There's also a level of humor in "Cool Hand Luke" which is very similar to the dynamic-duo film.
The style is very natural, breaking a few times for more artistic shots.
This film is not afraid to show the dark side or prison, though "Hunger" which would come decades later would expand upon this to horrifying ends.
Paul Newman is sensational as the leading man, he is everything that he should be and not and iota more or less.
Prison movies are a very common favorite of critics and viewers alike...just look at the success of "The Shawshank Redemption". But "Cool Hand Luke" is one of the best, it's gritty, smart, and human.
Score: 4 out of 4 stars
Posted by Micah Jones