Saturday, February 25, 2012

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)

Jack Nicholson goes nuts again.

I'd love nothing more than to stir the pot by giving one of the few movies to ever win the Academy Award grand slam, that's best director, screenplay, actor, actress and picture in the same year, a luke-warm review, but that's simply not going to happen. Even a disgruntled, bitter critic like myself can be dazzled on occasion and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is, simply put, one of the greatest film-making achievements in cinema's history. It's an nuanced, touching and powerful look at human nature that's so powerfully acted and beautifully crafted that it demands your attention.

Based on the novel of the same name by renowned counter-culture author Ken Kesey, One Upon the Cuckoo's Nest is the story of R.P. McMurphy, a man who's been in and out of prison for the vast majority of his life, and his grand plan to avoid hard labor by getting committed to an asylum. McMurphy, played by Jack Nicholson, succeeds in getting committed and ends up on a ward with an exceptional number of familiar faces, including Danny DeVito, Brad Dourif and Christopher Lloyd, that is run by his soon to be arch-nemesis, Nurse Ratched, played by Louise Fletcher. Needless to say, McMurphy's plan doesn't really work out the way he planned it and he doesn't take it too well. The film was released to decent, but not remarkable reviews, but it cleaned house come Oscar time by winning all five major awards. Since then, it has become one of the best loved American films ever made, even if Ken Kesey claims to despise it, and it finds itself as an obviously inclusion on the 1001 Movies to See Before You Die list.

Just what makes One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest so good is hard to say, but the performances are clearly the right place to start. Nicholson, Fletcher and Dourif have all received enormous amounts of praise for their performances, all of which is deserved, but the entire ensemble is just so completely bought in that the movie is compelling no matter who is on screen. That said, the movie's success can be almost entirely attributed to Nicholson's captivating performance as R.P. McMurphy. You can debate for hours about whether or not his character is truly mentally disturbed and it's a tribute to the nuance of his performance that this debate persists to this day. Ultimately, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's nest is, arguably, the best achievement in acting in the history of film. Beyond the performances, Director Milos Forman does a phenomenal job of highlighting the performances by cleanly crafting a movie that is beautiful to watch and doesn't feel overworked.

I could lump praise on One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest all day long, but I won't bore you by doing it. The film's reputation speaks for itself. What I can say is that the movie deserves every bit of kudos it receives and by not seeing it, you are doing yourself a disservice. If there is a single film on the 1001 Movies to See Before You Die list that deserves it's spot more than One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, I haven't seen it.


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