Anthony's Film Review

Cool Hand Luke (1967)

What we've got here is a nice film about an interesting character...

Cool Hand Luke was a movie I heard of many times but never got around to watching. The main reason I finally did was because its star, Paul Newman, had passed away in 2008. As many people will say, Newman was a real Hollywood legend. He left behind a legacy consisting of many notable films and his charitable contributions. He will certainly be missed. As I watched fans show their support for the actor, I knew it was time to see what he had to offer. Naturally, I started with Cool Hand Luke.

It is a rather interesting movie in that the title character seems nonchalant. In the first scene, Luke is in a drunken state as he breaks off parking meters from their metal poles. He is arrested and taken to a rural prison. At this point, I should note that nothing is known about Luke. The story does not provide details about his past and what led him to commit the crime he did. In my opinion, it's probably not necessary. As you will soon see, the story is not about how Luke became who he is now, but rather what he becomes next.

The first half of the movie mainly serves to set the atmosphere. Essentially, it's a series of scenes that depict life in the prison. Luke and the other prisoners are escorted out to cut weeds and dig ditches along a country road. There is one amusing scene where the men are digging nearby an attractive blonde woman washing her car. Aside from the work, the men are playing poker, which is when Luke gets the nickname "Cool Hand," and also cheering Luke on as he tries to eat a record 58 boiled eggs. Of course, if anyone breaks the rules, they are punished by being put into the Box, a dark cramped shed, for an extended period of time.

If you ask me, the real movie begins in the second half. It is marked with a turning point where something happens that emotionally affects Luke. In addition, the prison guards put Luke in the Box, not as any kind of punishment but as a precaution against drastic action stemming from his emotions. However, once Luke comes out, he is no longer the same. No longer the quiet prisoner unbothered by his prison surroundings, Luke makes multiple attempts to escape.

This is when it becomes clear what question the movie poses. Are prisons meant to rehabilitate people or worsen them? People like to say that prisons teach criminals a lesson such that they won't repeat their actions, especially when these places are called "correctional facilities." That's not the case in this story. It seems that Luke doesn't really feel imprisoned at first, but the confines of the Box have that effect on him. Perhaps the setting of a prison ultimately worsens those who enter, not help them. The film's notable quote sums it up: "What we've got here is failure to communicate."

Paul Newman does deliver a nice performance. As you expect, it's mainly in the second half of the story after the psychological change. Because of Newman, the story becomes intriguing, and it ends nicely with a climax at an empty church. Once it was over, I nodded with approval. There is a reason that Cool Hand Luke is noteworthy and, among film scholars, a classic. It features a thematic story, a snapshot of an American subculture, and a notable central character. Most importantly, Paul Newman makes it all work.

Anthony's Rating:

For more information about Cool Hand Luke, visit the Internet Movie Database.


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