Cool Hand Luke Movie Review

Cool Hand Luke DVD CoverI am young, by cinematic standards. I didn’t grow up in the 40’s and 50’s where the film industry was still, in many ways, relatively young. I haven’t had sixty years to watch movies and say with sincerity that dozens of films from the 1940’s are masterpieces. I do see old movies and appreciate them – and sometimes love them – but not all old films are great just because other people say there are. Take Cool Hand Luke, for example. It’s ranked #118 on IMDB’s Top 250, which means that there are only 117 films that are better. In the world. I’m sorry, folks, but Cool Hand Luke isn’t that good.

Cool Hand Luke is a pretty good movie starring the late Paul Newman, but I’d have to say my reaction to the film was lukewarm at best – forgive the quasi-pun. The movie is about some cool dude named Luke who’s a bit of a troublemaker, so much so that he finds himself in a minimum security prison for two years for destruction of private property. However, the rural prison can’t hold a man like Luke, physically or mentally. Constantly beaten down, Luke refuses to give up, and often escapes – only to be dragged back in time after time. After his mother dies, though, the warden sets all sights on Luke, determined to break him.

The movie features some good and likable performances from a recognizable cast. George Kennedy delivers a great performance as Luke’s eventual sidekick, and Newman himself turns in a quality performance. Unfortunately, while Newman is good, his subtle performance – and the movie’s subtle approach – just didn’t work for me. I wouldn’t say that the movie doesn’t stand the test of time; now out on a new DVD, the film looks great, especially when the scantily clad woman is washing her car. The writing, direction and look and feel all hold up well.

It’s just that the movie is sort of boring. I like character-driven stories, but Cool Hand Luke just isn’t one of those stories. Its plot is minimal at best, and I never felt like I could connect with Luke or any of the other characters. Ultimately, Luke keeps resisting and escaping, but I don’t care.

There’s not much more to it than that. Cool Hand Luke isn’t a bad movie, but it certainly isn’t one of the world’s top 250 movies.

By Erik Samdahl
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  • Wes

    OK, I read your review back when it was first posted. Thank the gods of HD/DVR I recently revisited the forementioned film.
    You were very honest by stating immediately-“I am young, by cinematic standards”. Therefore I almost forgive you. Where in the hell did you go back to “the 40’s and 50’s”? Paul Newman was able to bring his take of “1960’s” desperado to the screen in a way that only resembles Brandos 40’s/50’s delinquent. Yeah, it may be boring by todays short attention span standards, but it was and still remains a truly exciting cinematic experience.
    “C’mon safety pin…bust”

  • Hi Wes, thanks for the comments. I didn’t not like it, but it didn’t wow me. More than likely, I just wasn’t in the mood for this kind of film. In regards to the 40’s and the 50’s, that had nothing to do with Cool Hand Luke; but I’d say the first big wave of classics came from those decades, and not so much earlier.