43. EMPIRE MAGAZINE GREATEST: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

July 19, 2018

Director: Miloš Forman
Screenplay: Lawrence Hauben, Bo Goldman
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, William Redfield, Will Sampson, Brad Dourif, Sydney Lassick, Christopher Lloyd, Danny DeVito
Runtime: 133 Minutes


Original UK Release: 1975




As far as the notion of traditional Oscar Bait pictures might go, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is something of an anomaly. Its storytelling is vital but plain, forgoing many narrative traps and conventions in favour of watching this unique, oddball cluster of misfit characters bouncing off one another in the confines of a system only designed to protect them.


Ken Kesey novel is difficult to visualise, but Miloš Forman’s work as director is brilliantly controlled and calm, while the set is a lived in and believable area of both communal bondage and authoritarian stature - washed out of colour, but certainly not of life. Jack Nicholson’s Randle McMurphy is the storm that riles up the status quo in thrilling and emotional ways, and it’s an unforgettable bold performance. While his antagonism with the stern, cold – yet somewhat misunderstood - Nurse Ratched plays by a fabulously scowling Louise Fletcher, who pulls all the dramatic baggage she can when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object.


But to single out these two great leads alone would do a disservice to the emotional weight that is born from the confrontations between its phenomenal supporting cast members. Redfield, Dourif, Lloyd and DeVito make their figures as lively and damaged as possible through the slightest of gestures, and Will Sampson is simply unforgettable as everyone’s favourite mute, “Chief”.


Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman’s screenplay mines the dense source material for workable character material and finds a soul in the depths of its dreamlike prose and structure. Legendary musician and producer Jack Nitzsche brings something to the score beyond its memorable musical saw sound – he gives it an almost mythical sense of ageless identity and wandering sympathy that roams like the minds of its committed inhabitants, dreaming of the freedom just out of their grasp.

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