Movie Review- Cool Hand Luke

Cool Hand Luke is one of those movies that everyone is supposed to have seen, with quotable dialogue and memorable scenes. Isn’t it? I was under the impression it was in the same league as On the Waterfront or The Godfather, or at least other Paul Newman movies such as Butch Cascade and the Sunshine Boy. I saw it for the first time last night, and I have to say I just don’t get it.

Spoiler alert: In Cool Hand Luke, nothing happens. At all. Paul Newman barely even talks, it’s basically just him mugging for the camera. In fact, at the end of the movie, there’s actually a Paul Newman smile montage in which they string together moments from earlier in the film where Newman is smiling. It would have made a good commercial for Newman’s Own salad dressing. I kept waiting for some kind of story to develop, but instead, it’s just scene after scene of sweaty, sun-burned convicts toiling out on the road. The monotony is finally broken when Newman brags about his ability to eat 50 hard-boiled eggs in an hour, then proceeds to do so.  The back of the Netflix sleeve mentions that Newman is trapped in a hellish prison, but to me, it seemed no worse than summer camp. The prisoners got three squares a day, plenty of exercise, and were allowed to hang out on the weekends playing banjo and singing songs on the porch. This prison also seemed to be conveniently free of anal rape. It’s obvious from the singing-in-the-shower scene that any sex between inmates would have been consensual, and that dropping the soap would be a flirtation, not a dangerous mistake. You could tell how fond of each other these boys were by the manner in which they settled their differences. Instead of just shanking each other in the back, one inmate would challenge the other to a boxing match. The next day, the two fellas would square off out in the yard and smack each other around until one of them gave up or said “uncle” or what have you. Did I mention they would wear boxing gloves? This is because the slightest bit of bruising was too much for these hardened criminals to bear. Once the gentlemanly bought had concluded, the conflict would be completely resolved and the two men could go back to spooning. Note: In this context, “spooning” meant helping out your fellow inmate by spooning up some of his excess rice and eating it for him so he wouldn’t get in trouble for not cleaning his plate. You see, one of the punishments for trying to escape was that you were forced to eat twice as much rice as everyone else was eating. Another punishment for trying to escape was they made you dig a hole, then fill it back in. Of course on your third attempt to escape, they just shot you in the neck, which is what happens to Paul Newman. I said “spoiler alert” before, right? Yeah, Paul Newman gets shot in the neck. Soon after this is when they role that smile montage I mentioned, as the other prisoners reflect on what a swell guy Paul was. If anything happened after the montage, I can’t even remember. I think it was just the credits, though, and they came not a moment too soon. Cool Hand Luke feels like an extremely long movie. It takes 2 hours of your life to sit through it from beginning to end.  Eating 100 hard-boiled eggs would be a better use of your time.


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