Cool Hand Luke (1967)

by British Film Critic

I’ve made it known before how much I enjoy the ‘slice of life’ sub-genre, where a film will, for 120 minutes or so, submerge you into a new, fascinating and very feasible world and deliver a relatively simple, concise and compact story that leaves you immensely satisfied when it’s all over, and Cool Hand Luke is definitely all of that.

Once the film began, I cannot say why, but I expected something a bit bigger (in scope, for example) from this film, but those false preconceptions were swept away in a matter of moments, as I could literally feel myself getting thoroughly invested in this great, meaningful little story, of which, if someone had laid out the premise to me beforehand, I most likely wouldn’t have even given it the time of day.

What is it that made this film much greater, much more engaging and much more interesting than its flat premise? A whole host of things, but I should first tip my hat to Paul Newman, may he rest in peace, because his performance here is really something. As could be expected from anyone somewhat familiar with Newman, the suaveness he brings to the screen is almost irresistible, and the arc given to his Luke is something that not only really impacted me, but honestly shocked me too.

Conrad Hall brings something really special to the film with his cinematography, which when paired with Sam O’Steen’s editing just makes for a whole lot of truly great filmmaking – it’s that kind of stuff that just grips you with it’s technical excellence, and it’s the kind of stuff that reminds you why you love this art form in the first place. This also might just be a personal thing, but the atmosphere of comradery, brotherhood and cooperation that really holds this film from start to finish worked so well for me – it always felt so real and so tender, and ultimately laid bare to all sorts of emotional turns as the film drew to a close.

Cool Hand Luke is a film even I, someone who spends far too much time venturing through cinephile spaces, barely hear spoken about at all, but the heavyweight performances and almost timeless quality to the film make it one that I really can’t recommend enough.