One of the oldest complaints in the history of film is "It's not as good as the book." Sometimes a Great Notion is no exception. While Ken Kesey's first novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, translated to celluloid brilliantly, his sophomore effort is far too sprawling and complex to fit on the silver screen. This is not to say that Paul Newman, who directed, produced, and starred in this picture, didn't make a valiant effort. Sometimes a Great Notion chronicles the downfall of the Stamper clan, a family of union-busting loggers with a twisted sense of pride and morality living in the backwoods of Oregon. This location provides the opportunity for some sweeping shots of fallen forests and endless twisting rivers. Newman also gets wonderful performances out of his cast, not the least of which he delivers himself. As Hank Stamper, Newman shows why he is a star, portraying Hank as a laser-beam-focused son working hard to make his old man, Henry, happy, no matter what. Sadly, the great Henry Fonda is a bit one-dimensional as Henry Stamper. He never gets the chance to explore why Henry is so defiantly selfish and willing to destroy his fellow lumberjacks. On the other hand, Richard Jaeckel hits just the right tone portraying the simple Joe Ben Stamper. Jaeckel's unwavering smile helps to create the most powerful moment of the film, a scene in which Joe Ben is pinned between logs underwater and will drown in the rising tide unless his brother, Hank, continues to give him mouth-to-mouth. Michael Sarrazin is also good as the Ivy League liberal half-brother returning home. Despite some well-done moments and performances, the movie feels flat. Uneven pacing and failure to explore several ideas in more detail keeps Sometimes a Great Notion from being a great movie.
by Scott Engel review