What makes “Cool Hand Luke” such a special film? It is its relaxed tone, and friendly and inviting characters that you would welcome home. Sure they are criminals but what the heck, it’s not like they are murderers. That’s what separates “Luke” from other prison films, it’s not about violent criminals struggling to survive with life in the slammer, having to fear the showers; it’s just a bunch of friends hanging out in a minimum security facility because they fell on the wrong side as they were tap-dancing on the fine line between legal and illegal.
Paul Newman plays Luke, a guy who gets drunk one night and vandalizes city property; I say vandalizes but really all he does is cut the heads of some parking meters, and you know what? Screw parking meters. Anyway he ends up in a Florida prison, where he is given the nickname Cool Hand Luke after winning a game of poker with a cool hand (a bluff).
Newman makes acting seem so easy, and this isn’t even my favorite movie of his. There are a lot of heartthrob actors that I just don’t see the attraction to. But I can really understand the women being all over Paul. He exerts so much manhood through puppy dog eyes and a baby’s smile. In short he looks pretty damn awesome, and the way I see it, Luke is playing Paul, not Paul Luke.
Luke as a character is so much fun to witness. He is one of those characters you wish was your real life friend. One great scene showing the greatness of Luke as a character has him take a bet involving 100 eggs. The scene is easily the most memorable in the movie and I loved it even though it is a bit impossible to happen in real life.
The success of this film lies solely with Luke’s character and the actor who plays him, which is why this film isn’t excellent. I loved Luke and Paul, I really did, but other than that there wasn’t that much more to like. Thankfully the story is all about Luke so it succeeds on that point, but I can’t say I cared much about any of the other characters however colorful they were. Perhaps though if they focused a little more on the others instead of Luke, the protagonist would stop being so interesting. A lot of the scenes aren’t that memorable either. Aside from 2 or 3 of them the film just pushes through each scene like a woman going through contractions before giving birth. I’m not saying it’s a bad film, I’m not saying that at all. All Im saying is that during a lot of the movie, the only thing that keeps you interested is the great character that is Luke. Imagine the first chapter of a novel; imagine it is all about describing the main character in detail, and you are anxious to get to the story and then when you are finally done, you find out that there are no more chapters to the novel, and that is “Cool Hand Luke”: A well made description of a character with nothing else in it.
I still liked the movie quite a bit. You can do a lot worse as far as character dramas go and you definitely cannot pick a better actor to play the main character. If this movie doesn’t at least keep you stuck to your TV for 2 hours then we have a failure to communicate.