Posted By: Coco Buchanan
Though I’ve seen parts of it before, I can’t believe I had never seen Cool Hand Luke in its entirety. It was an extra special treat that I, on my first time viewing it all the way through, got to see it at a screening at BAM. Directed by Stuart Rosenberg, this was an adapted screenplay from a 1965 novel by a former Floridian inmate, Donn Pearce. Essentially, it’s a story of this guy, Luke (played by the super, super hot-at-the-time Paul Newman), who gets thrown in jail for chopping off the tops of parking meters while intoxicated. Though the Christ-y-ness/martyr bullshit is super heavy-handed and unnecessary, I thought it was a really great film and story overall.
The strongest part of the movie is Newman himself. I can’t think of another actor from that time period who could pull off the subtlety and likability that this character requires. Not even archetypical anti-hero standby Hollywood leading men like Steve McQueen or Warren Beatty could’ve pulled it off. McQueen wouldn’t have been likable or handsome enough, and Beatty would’ve been too handsome and totally unbelievable in the role. Paul Newman has an incredibly varied sex appeal that I’ve really never noticed before until now. He’s at once tough, manly, emotive, cute, smart-alleck-y, smoldering, intelligent and subtle….even with those gorgeous, gorgeous eyes that one would have to be blind to miss. Dude, even Hunter declared him to be a “babe” as we were walking back to the train after the movie!
The other obvious thing I really liked about the film was the general theme of a person who absolutely refuses to be beaten down by mainstream societal oppression. It’s a pretty played out theme, exemplified by annoying things like Braveheart, The Patriot, and, well, Jesus. Most of these types of stories have an incredible tendency to be overblown, cheesy, and aggressively (and passive-aggressively!) emotionally manipulative. But, because “the Man” was represented by jail/law enforcement officers, the societal outlier cleverly being played by Paul Newman, plus the pretty amazing one-liners, I came out of the film feeling really inspired to go out and wreak some Project Mayhem type shit; the perfect prescription for my “working stiff” ennui.
Aside from this, and just an example of the amazing collection of skills contained by Paul Newman the actor, there is an incredible scene in which he finds out that his mother has just died. “Luke” quietly goes to sit on his bunk and play the banjo (he sings a song called “Plastic Jesus”, I think), while tears drip down his face silently. It was incredibly moving without being over-the-top and emotionally manipulative or too cheesy. I have no idea how the hell he controlled those tears, but even the way they fell out of his eyes was like, amazing.
Ok, so apart from Paul Newman this, Paul Newman that, I did like the cinematography a lot. The mise en scene was pretty simple, in that it was supposed to be some nature-y part of the South (even though it was filmed just north of Stockton, CA, which I totally recognized by the type of shrubbery!) but like Newman’s performance, the beautiful cinematography work revealed itself in a very subtle, understated way. Even the beginning scene with just the parking meters at night was done very minimalistically and stripped-down, focusing on the essential/basic shapes and sounds of the meters falling to the ground, as Newman slightly sloppily swigs his fizzy beer.
Most of all, though, the day has now come where I finally get that Reality Bites reference about eating all the eggs!