Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cool Hand Luke

Like a lot of prison movies, Cool Hand Luke relies on the quality of the craftsmanship on the screen more than the events that drive the story. Not a whole lot happens in the plot, but it still sustains itself well for two hours thanks to skillful direction by Stuart Rosenberg and a good, restrained performance by Paul Newman. George Kennedy acquits himself well in an Oscar winning performance as Dragline, and the rest of the cast is solid as well. But it's Newman's performance I'll remember the best, doing a great job holding up the character end of a character-focused story. He can be the coolest guy in the room in one scene and a broken-down mess in the next, and while his journey can be depressing, on the other hand it's also an example of how the human spirit can never truly be broken, and in a way it's about how legends are made.

Luke is a war hero who seems bored with life, and gets arrested and sentenced to two years in a Southern work prison when he gets caught drunkenly cutting the heads off parking meters. Dragline is a leader among the inmates, and at first the two butt heads. But eventually they bond when Dragline is impressed by Luke's refusal to ever give in, and gives him his Cool Hand nickname after a poker game. Things go pretty well for Luke considering the prison setting for a while, but after a tragedy, he is unfairly punished and becomes rebellious, repeatedly trying to break out of the place, which results in some pretty harsh treatment. The transformation of the character is the meat of the whole movie, and while it's often difficult to see it's always compelling as well. The movie is also famous for some of its dialogue, like the prisoners telling the guards about everything they're doing and the "failure to communicate" line, and those things were entertaining to see, but what most impressed me about the film is just the amount of care that went into making it. Prison is usually a good way to examine the psychology of men, and Cool Hand Luke is as good an exploration as any. It's not my favorite, but it's darn good.

No comments: