Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel was a benchmark of American storytelling long before Saul Zaentz and Michael Douglas enlisted Milos Forman to bring One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to multiplexes in 1975. It would seem, then, that examining that notion of a modern day adaptation is not entirely out of bounds.
As I’ve explained before, the existence of this fantasy re-casting column is not an endorsement of the notion that the world demands a new iteration of this classic film. It is merely an examination of the hypothetical situation that no Hollywood producer would dare to have taken on this literary monolith in the first place. The column is meant to examine how the 2012 iteration of Hollywood would hand and develop a classic project if it were presented as new.
I also want to make abundantly clear that the very purpose of this article’s existence is to spur debate. If my choices seem outlandish, bewildering, or flat-out wrongheaded, I openly welcome any of your alterations or overhauls.
Noah Baumbach, Director
Baumbach’s repertoire serves as something of a perfect storm for our entirely fictitious incarnation of Cuckoo’s Nest. He’s proven to be an expert at building tension among close-knit units (The Squid and the Whale, Margot at the Wedding), a master of affable conversation pieces (Kicking & Screaming) and perfectly capable of presenting a relatable and compelling hero’s journey (Greenberg).
Furthermore, Cuckoo’s Nest is, chiefly, an actor’s movie. And you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone giving an uninspired performance in any of Baumbach’s films.
John Hawkes as R.P. McMurphy
While he wouldn’t likely bring to McMurphy the childlike exuberance that was so apparent in Nicholson’s portrayal, Hawkes’ key attribute here is his sheer magnetism. Somewhere between his turns in Winter’s Bone and Martha Marcy May Marlene, Hawkes became one of the more compelling leading men in the business.
It’s not as important that McMurphy play the part of the class clown among the men on the ward, even though Nicholson was more than game to indulge those aspects of the character above all others. Rather, most imperative is that McMurphy be the kind of man who changes the dynamic to which the other patients have become mindlessly slavish. John Hawkes is, simply, a leader of men.
Furthermore, his work as Kenny Powers’ older brother on Eastbound & Down shows Hawkes could handle being the straight man to a wacky band of mental cases.
Up next, who could we possibly chose to re-imagine Louise Fletcher’s Oscar-winning portrayal of Nurse Ratched and Brad Dourif’s Oscar-nominated turn as the babyfaced Billy Bibbit?
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