Cool Hand Luke


Cool Hand Luke

Critics Consensus

Though hampered by Stuart Rosenberg's direction, Cool Hand Luke is held aloft by a stellar script and one of Paul Newman's most indelible performances.



Total Count: 49


Audience Score

User Ratings: 63,597
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Movie Info

Paul Newman was nominated for an Oscar and George Kennedy received one for his work in this allegorical prison drama. Luke Jackson (Paul Newman) is sentenced to a stretch on a southern chain gang after he's arrested for drunkenly decapitating parking meters. While the avowed ambition of the captain (Strother Martin) is for each prisoner to "get their mind right," it soon becomes obvious that Luke is not about to kowtow to anybody. When challenged to a fistfight by fellow inmate Dragline (George Kennedy), Luke simply refuses to give up, even though he's brutally beaten. Luke knows how to win at poker, even with bad cards, by using his smarts and playing it cool. Luke also figures out a way for the men to get their work done in half the usual time, giving them the afternoon off. Finally, when Luke finds out his mother has died, he plots his escape; when he's caught, he simply escapes again. Soon, Luke becomes a symbol of hope and resilience to the other men in the prison camp -- and a symbol of rebelliousness that must be stamped out to the guards and the captain. Along with stellar performances by Newman, Kennedy, and Martin, Cool Hand Luke features a superb supporting cast, including Ralph Waite, Harry Dean Stanton, Dennis Hopper, Wayne Rogers, and Joe Don Baker as members of the chain gang.


Paul Newman
as Lucas Jackson
J.D. Cannon
as Society Red
Jo Van Fleet
as Arletta
Robert Drivas
as Loudmouth Steve
Dennis Hopper
as Babalugats
Morgan Woodward
as Boss Godfrey
Luke Askew
as Boss Paul Hunnicut
Marc Cavell
as Rabbitt
Richard Davalos
as Blind Dick
Wayne Rogers
as Gambler
Harry Dean Stanton
as Edgar "Tramp" Potter
Robert Donner
as Boss Shorty
John McLiam
as Boss Kean
Charles Tyner
as Boss Higgins
Joy Harmon
as The Girl
Norman Goodwins
as Stupid Blondie
John Pearce
as John Sr.
Eddie Rosson
as John Jr.
Rush Williams
as Patrolman
James Jeter
as Wickerman
Rance Howard
as Sheriff
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Critic Reviews for Cool Hand Luke

All Critics (49) | Top Critics (8) | Fresh (49)

Audience Reviews for Cool Hand Luke

  • Aug 11, 2014
    Paul Newman stars in an anti-establishment drama, and, quite frankly, does it get anymore late 1960s than that? Sometimes you have to listen to the establishment, because even though ol' Luke is too cool for school, he's too pretty for prison, so stay in school, kids. Actually, Luke seems to think that he's too cool for the system, because even after they caught Butch Cassidy, he was still refusing to do what the man told him to. I guess that's to be expected from Paul Newman, but I think that he might just be here to vouch for screenwriters Donn Pearce and Frank Pierson in case people accuse them of ripping off "Hombre". Newman is just too cool for words, and I mean that literally, because between "Hombre" and this film, he probably just barely accumulated the amount of dialogue a lead role has in a regular film in 1967. Maybe it's a good thing that he's so quiet, because it lead to us getting the line, "What we have here is a failure to communicate" (I love Guns N' Roses' "Civil War"), although, as much as the titular lead breaks the rules, that line was probably going to get here somewhere along the way. No matter what Newman does, it seems to always lead to a pretty good movie in this case, and yet, he isn't too cool to set this film above its problems. The antics of the titular Luke Jackson and peers are fun and all, but in all of its working so hard to supplement your understanding of the characters and their dynamics within and amongst themselves, the film hits a few set pieces that are hard to believe, but arguably needed, seeing as how not much else is there to supplement the characterization. Developmental shortcomings prove to be a big issue in this film, for immediate background is lacking, and gradual exposition is surprisingly superficial, to where one ought to, in fact, find a failure to communicate, that is, the depths of the roles which are hard to get especially invested in. Still, no matter how much the film saves time by cutting back on exposition, it still clocks in at a little over two hours, and doesn't get their easily, on the back of filler, perhaps even some material excesses which lead to a sense of narrative aimlessness. If nothing else projects some sense of limpness, it's Stuart Rosenberg's directorial cold spells, which are limited in this generally either entertaining or engrossing drama, but still stand to sometimes all but bore and consistently bland in their defusing an even conceptually thin sense of momentum. Honestly, this film doesn't seem to be as edgy as it could have been, and that most holds the effectiveness back, through a lighthearted attitude that is punctuated by thin conflicts, further thinned out by all of the missteps in believability, development and pacing. What the film does right it does so very right, thus, the final product rewards, but not as easily as many say, for there's not much to say, and the storytelling says it rather limply at times. Still, on the whole, the final product rewards as some degree of the entertaining, when not biting drama it holds the potential of being. I just got done criticizing Donn Pearce's story concept for taking potentially edgy subject matter as a generally realist study on prison life, and interpreting it into something a little light, but there's still something genuinely refreshing about this film, as well as promising, with dramatic intrigue, and a hint of colorful fluff. There is plenty of potential for entertainment value, and even Stuart Rosenberg does it a degree of justice, with a directorial performance whose steadiness is often bland, but rarely too much so, for their is enough subtle flare to Rosenberg's style to liven things up, and enough realization to the thoughtfulness to resonate about as much as he can with material so thin. Rosenberg feels confident in his storytelling more often than not, and that's endearing, especially when Rosenberg's efforts prove truly effective by their own right, in breathing life into an intriguing story concept and, for that matter, a solid script. Pearce and Frank Pierson get to be misguided in their both narrative overblown and developmental thin scripting, but their efforts remain memorably effective on the whole, with dialogue being razor-sharp, and set pieces being colorful in their keeping pacing up, at least more so than actual progression. Also commendable is Pearce's and Pierson's extensiveness, which is limited by natural shortcomings of the time and the story concept, and by the storytelling missteps, but realized enough for you to gain a firm grip on themes regarding the chemistry and questionable treatment of prisoners, and to find memorable roles through all of the characterization issues. This film needs for you to get invested in its characters in order to thrive, and that's where the performances come in, because just about everyone has a time to shine, whether it be Jo Van Fleet in a show-stealing cameo, or Morgan Woodward as a chilling antagonist, or George Kennedy in a delightfully charming, Oscar-winning performance, or leading man Paul Newman, who carries the film in his doing way more than the writers in capturing the iconically smooth charisma of the titular Luke Jackson character, punctuated by unexpected and powerful dramatic layers which humanize the leads as an effective audience avatar and protagonist by his own right. One can understand why the film is so iconic, for so many aspects to it are memorable in their being so effective, maybe not to where the flaws can be completely forgiven, but certainly to where the film compels, entertains and ultimately rewards. Once the time is done, some lapses in believability, many lapses in expository depth, and frequent lapses in focus, under the weight of dragging, cold spells and, on top of all of that, natural shortcomings threaten the final product, but on the backs of intriguing subject matter, confident direction, sharp writing and powerful performances, "Cool Hand Luke" rises as an ultimately rewarding portrait on prison life in all of its color and grime. 3/5 - Good
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • Sep 29, 2013
    What elevates this engaging drama to a remarkable ode to nonconformity is definitely Paul Newman's intense performance and its taut, compelling script, which both compensate for the story's exceedingly slow-moving pace and Rosenberg's inept direction.
    Carlos M Super Reviewer
  • Dec 08, 2012
    "Cool Hand Luke" doesn't tread as much ground as it should, but its message is still as resonant today as it was back then and its performances are just as strong.
    Stephen E Super Reviewer
  • Mar 28, 2012
    Though the film has flaws, the performances by Newman and the whole cast are just amazing.
    Graham J Super Reviewer

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