Lucky Number Slevin
Director : Paul McGuigan
Screenplay : Jason Smilovic
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2006
Warning: The following review contains major spoilers. Proceed at your own risk if you have not already seen the film.
A major twist--no, the major twist--in Lucky Number Slevin relies entirely on the audience assuming that a long-winded story told near the beginning of the film is either fabricated or utterly unrelated to the plot at hand. In the film’s opening sequence, a man in a wheelchair who we will come to know as Mr. Goodkat (Bruce Willis) begins talking to a young man in a virtually empty bus station terminal and tells him a story about a family that was wiped out by a young organized crime syndicate when the father foolishly bet $20,000 on a loaded horse race.
The events in the story took place in 1979 and involved the deaths of the husband, wife, and their 10-year-old son. Well, not exactly because, while we see the gruesome deaths of the former two, the boy is not shown actually being killed. We see a gun raised to the back of his head, but then the images fades to white before a shot is actually fired. Is director Paul McGuigan (Wicker Park) just being discreet? Probably not, given that he’s not at all squeamish when it comes to dousing the screen with liberal doses of realistic blood and gore elsewhere in the film.
Thus, when Josh Hartnett appears on-screen after the flashback looking suspiciously like an older version of the kid we saw supposedly killed and falling perfectly into the age bracket that a 10-year-old in 1979 would occupy in 2006, it’s hard not to jump to the immediate conclusion that these characters are one in the same. Yet, the screenplay by Jason Smilovic (developer of TV’s short-lived Karen Sisco) clearly doesn’t want us to know this because later in the film there is a showy “revelation” in which we find out that they are, in fact, the same character. To Smilovic’s credit, the film also reveals some other connections that weren’t quite as obvious, but this big one is so badly concealed that it throws the rest of the film into doubt.
Hartnett plays a young name named Slevin who finds himself caught up in an escalating war between two organized crime bosses when he is mistaken for a slacker friend who owes one of them $96,000. One of the bosses, cleverly named “The Boss,” is played by Morgan Freeman, and other, named “The Rabbi,” is played by Ben Kingsley. Slevin is hauled before The Boss by two of his cronies wearing nothing but a towel and a pair of slippers (he chose a bad time to take a shower) and is told that he can wipe the debt clean if he assassinates The Rabbi’s son, who’s gay and is therefore nicknamed “The Fairy” (you’d think we were still in 1979).
At this point, if you haven’t figured out that Slevin is the kid who was supposed to have been killed and is most likely on some kind of mission of vengeance against the murderers of his parents, then you will probably feel very confused and irritated at Slevin’s behavior. He is supposed to be an every-guy (Hartnett has even said in interviews that he didn’t work out so the character would look “pasty” and “harmless” in his towel), but Slevin is so calm and collected while being hauled in front of vicious mob bosses that it’s hard to feel that the story isn’t taking place in the Twilight Zone. Sure, Slevin’s smark-aleck comments make for good sub-Tarantino dialogue fodder, but within the larger narrative it makes absolutely zero sense (nor does his bizarre refusal to convince anyone with any conviction that he’s been mistaken for someone else), unless Slevin is playing an elaborate con.
Which, of course, is the case, and much of Lucky Number Slevin is just treading water until we find that out for sure. In the meantime, Slevin starts a quick romance with the neighbor across the hall, a girl named Lindsey who is played with flirty bemusement by Lucy Liu. Some of their scenes work together very nicely, but when Smilovic tries to get clever in his pop culture references, he just reinforces how banal the whole affair is by having Slevin and Lindsey compare, of all boring things, the most worthy James Bond actors.
Despite all these shortcomings, Lucky Number Slevin isn’t a complete failure. It has some well-designed scenes, a few jabs of witty banter, and a taut moment or two, as well as the vicious satisfaction of seeing justice served ice-cold. McGuigan’s balance of criminal intrigue and dark comedy remains viable, if never even half as clever as he would like it to be. The film does tend to sag near the middle, dawdling off into apparent pointlessness before reviving itself with a host of revelations about who did what to whom and who is in league with whom and even the content of some pillow talk that got left off-screen. There are a few genuine surprises, but not enough to cover over the fact that the biggest reveal of all was plainly obvious in the first 10 minutes.
Copyright ©2006 James Kendrick
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All images copyright ©2006 The Weinstein Company