A laidback man is sentenced to two years in a rural prison, but
his refusal to conform makes him a target for the walking bosses.
Cool Hand Luke (1967)
Directed by Stuart Rosenberg
Written by Donn Pearce and Frank Pierson
Starring Paul Newman, George Kennedy, Strother Martin,
J.D. Cannon, Lou Antonio, Harry Dean Stanton, Clifton James, Robert Drivas, Dennis Hopper, Jo Van Fleet
Based on the novel by Donn Pearce
Oscar Wins - Best Supporting Actor (George Kennedy)
Oscar Nominations - Best Actor (Paul Newman),
Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score (Lalo Schifrin)
Cool Hand Luke represents the best that Paul Newman had to offer cinema at the height of his career. He is the driving force behind this movie, and his performance is uncanny. While the film is widely celebrated (and it's one of the few 100%'s on Rotten Tomatoes), it does suffer from a real lack of story. However, it is primarily a character-driven film about one man's refusal to play ball in a Southern prison. So, I'll let it slide. I can see why it's one of those films everyone should watch at some point, even if it's essentially The Shawshank Redemption without the ever so present hope.
Paul Newman is Luke, a carefree prisoner who makes a name for himself among the other prisoners by not backing down from a fight and eating 50 eggs in just one hour (it's an odd scene, but iconic). His constant escape attempts label him trouble for the Captain (Strother Martin), the prison warden, and the other walking bosses. So, they do their best to break him. Luke's prisoner friend Dragline (George Kennedy) tries to keep Luke's spirits alive and well, but every man has his breaking point. It's a great character study into why some people feel the need to exist on the fringe of society, even in a prison situation. Luke is very much the outsider who enjoys living against the grain. Even by the film's end, where we are left to decide Luke's fate for ourselves, he let the bosses shoot him because he wanted one last jab at authority.
Does this make Luke a hero? Not really, but he's our hero. He's the charming son of a bitch we're stuck with in this quintessential guy movie that features arguably the most sexually suggestive car wash scene ever filmed (Thank you, Joy Harmon). And thanks to Paul Newman and most of the supporting cast, it's a pretty good movie. Definitely one of his best.