In one of his most memorable performances, Paul Newman is Luke Jackson a man put on a chain gang for cutting the heads off parking meters while drunk. Despite the weary and monotonous regiment, Luke will not be cowed and he always keeps his positive demeanor.
Originally the newcomer, Luke quickly earns the respect of everyone including Dragline (George Kennedy), whether he is boxing, eating 50 hard-boiled eggs, or bluffing his way through a card game. Even though he is never quite successful, Luke never stops trying to escape either. His numerous clever attempts lead the Captain (Strother Martin) to utter his famous words about their “failure to communicate.” After multiple escape attempts Luke gets beaten, berated, and tortured.
However, he proves that you can never destroy his spirit no matter how hard yo try and so the ending is inconsequential. So ultimately “Cool Hand Luke” is a winner and a likable one at that.
It is necessary to acknowledge this solid ensemble cast including the likes of Dennis Hopper, Wayne Rogers, Ralph Waite, and of course Joan Van Fleet. Furthermore, there is seemingly no film that better depicts the dirt, grime, heat, and humidity that comes from working in a southern chain gang. The cinematography makes even the audience uncomfortable and a shower seems all but necessary.
Although the focus is often on the indefatigable character of Luke it became evident that this is often a taxing and difficult film to watch especially in the second half. In many ways Luke is the savior of these men in the chain gang and he sacrifices a lot of himself so that they might have some hope. Thus, this film is not just about the highs but the lows as well and Paul Newman plays every moment adeptly with the coolness that Luke Jackson embodies.