Finally got a chance to watch Cool Hand Luke recently. It’s one of those films that are frequently referenced but infrequently seen.
Cool Hand Luke works mostly on the effectiveness of its actors. It’s an intensely character-driven piece, with very little action. It’s all about the relationships between the characters, how the bounce off each other.
I was struck by the other prisoners’ reaction to Luke. He’s very independent, seeing no need to observe the prisoners’ little hierarchy. He doesn’t try to upset it, either; he just ignores it. He wins the other prisoners’ respect out of sheer tenacity and difference.
Their reaction? They follow. As impressed as they are at his independence, none of them try to be independent. It’s almost like they expect him to live out their own dreams of independence. It’s a terrible burden, and in the end it’s one of the things that breaks him.
It’s a beautiful film, too, full of the rising and setting sun, reflections in glasses, and creative shots. But that’s frosting on the cake; the actors drive the film. And they drive it straight to eternity.