Bruce Willis and Josh Hartnett in Lucky Number Slevin.
Lucky Number Slevin is an entertaining thriller that falls short of being clever, but makes up for it with style and interesting characters. Josh Hartnett, who keeps flirting with stardom, does a great job in the lead and he is supported by the impressive roster of Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Sir Ben Kingsley and Lucy Liu. Together they charm and entertain you into ignoring the plot's weaker points.
Although it's not film noir (it doesn't take itself seriously enough for one thing), the setup to the story is vaguely reminiscent of a noir detective movie from the 1940s. Slevin (Hartnett), newly arrived in New York City to visit his friend, Nick Fisher, is mistaken for Fisher by two mobsters, to whom his friend owes large gambling debts. The first mobster is played by Freeman. He agrees to dismiss the money Fisher owes him, if he will kill the son of rival mob boss, The Rabbi (Kingsley), who has recently, or so Freeman believes, killed Freeman's own son. The Rabbi, meanwhile, also brings Slevin in to see him, despite Slevin's protests that he's not Fisher, and demands his money. Hovering in the background behind both mobsters is the mysterious Mr. Smith (Willis).
Slevin, while at first appearing as the bumbling innocent, is clearly not all he says he is or isn't. In fact, it is so clear that he's not that it rather spoils the movie's "surprise" ending. Fortunately, even though you can see where the story is headed, the trip is still entertaining. It does mean though that when the secret is revealed, the flashbacks that spell out how everything ties together are unnecessary. The movie's not that long, nor the plot so intricate that the audience will have forgotten what happened just 45 minutes earlier.
Lucy Liu plays Nick Fisher's neighbor who meets Slevin when she comes over to borrow a cup of sugar. As Slevin is pulled in and out of meetings with strange mobsters, he returns to the apartment and relates the incidents to her. I've never been a big fan of Liu's but she comes across as so charming in this movie, I may have to reappraise my opinion of her.
The dialogue is quirky and fun. Liu and Hartnett have several good bantering moments together, as do Harnett and Freeman. It's a good mix of humor and danger and it provides a strong dark comedy without losing tension.
There have been several good dark comedies in the past year; The Matador, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Ice Harvest. Lucky Number Slevin can now be added to that list.
Josh Hartnett and Morgan Freeman in Lucky Number Slevin.
Lucky Number Slevin has its moments, but it never becomes as good as it could. It's funny, but not funny enough. It's violent, but violence alone has never made a movie great. The plot is fascinating enough. But the characters are never allowed to be anything more than cardboard cut outs.
Hartnett is a good enough actor. He just never exudes enough charm or emotion for audiences to ever connect with him. Lets compare him to Ashton Kutchner. They look a bit alike. They have the same build. Kutchner has charisma while Hartnett is fairly bland. Perhaps it is their role choices. Kutchner plays in more comedies and comes across more entertainingly. Hartnett plays in too many dark movies. He needs to play some lighter roles. Try some comedy Josh. The dramas are not working for you.
With Hartnett sleepwalking through and misplaying his role, it is left to the supporting actors to liven up the movie. They fail as well. Liu is adorable, but little more. She reacts to what is going on around her as if it were a Nancy Drew mystery. Even after she discovers the truth, she is never shown having any reaction to it. As for Willis, his expression never changes the entire movie.
This film has all kinds of plot twists and turns, but Paul McGuinan directs the movie like he does not know where he wants to go with the characters. There should have been more of a bonding moment between Slevin and Goodkat. It is their relationship that ends up being the heart of the movie, but the movie never explores it. Their last scene together should have contained so much more.
Hartnett may like working with Paul McGuinan, they worked together on Wicker Park, but they do not make great films together. Hey Paul, what is with all of the bizarre wallpaper in almost every room of every set? Maybe you should worry more about your actors emoting and less about the set decor.
I have written this many times now, but I will keep writing it until every screenwriter understands it. THE AUDIENCE MUST BE ABLE TO HAVE AN EMOTIONAL CONNECTION TO A CHARACTER OR AN EVENT IN A MOVIE FOR IT TO SUCCEED. Without that, the movie is just a hollow story that the audience will shortly forget after viewing. For example: I watched Wicker Park earlier this year and I can barely remember any particular scene or character from it. I will likely forget all about Lucky Number Slevin just as quickly.
Photos © Copyright The Weinstein Company LLC (2006)