Jack Nicholson, in an arguably career best (so far) performance, is R.P. McMurphy, hopes to complete a short prison sentence without resorting to hard labour, and therefore pleads insanity and is transferred to a psychiatric hospital run by the steely Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher). Ratched’s treatment methods, including humiliation and a mind-numbing daily routine appal McMurphy, as he realises the other patients are more focused on their fear of her than of functioning in the outside world. Although the main two performances are excellent, both winning well deserved Oscars, the film remains memorable more for the supporting cast that makes up the other inmates. Each has a specific and instantly recognisable personality, be it Brad Dourif’s stutteringly naive suicide risk Billy, Danny DeVito’s childlike Martini or Christopher Lloyd’s crazed loose cannon Taber, used whenever anyone is required to awake to a surprise situation, as Lloyd owns the greatest instant ‘what the Hell’ face on the planet.
The film is remarkable, not only for the acting but also the depths to which the story plunges, with an ending both horrific and genuinely surprising. Throughout the film it is obvious that McMurphy will be discovered as a fraud (something never actually stated during the film), and will of course be sent back to prison where he belongs (the sentence he is attempting to avoid is the statutory rape of a 15-year old girl), but the fate in store for him is far worse than could possibly be imagined. It also features possibly the most elaborate plan to have sex ever, hijacking a busload of patients, commandeering a boat and teaching said loons how to fish.
Choose film 9/10