A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 359 – Lucky Number Slevin

Lucky Number Slevin – February 22nd, 2011

There is a trick with noir-type thrillers and mysteries where even when you know what sort of movie they are you still don’t know precisely how they will twist and turn and set everything up. And so reviewing them becomes difficult, because the fun in the movie is in the discovery. Now, for me, that discovery often takes place when I read a synopsis or spoilers. See, I don’t mind spoilers. At all. Andy hates them and I can understand why, but there’s a part of me that’s been so annoyed with so many “twist” endings in the past that I like to know what I’m getting into. If it sounds good, I stick with it. If it sounds bad I check out. Saves me emotional investment in something that will piss me off.

So I read a bit about this movie and while it gave me the cold hard facts, it didn’t really tell me how everything would go down. The plot points, yes. The performances, no. And the plot points sounded interesting enough that I wanted to see how the performances sold them and I would like to state for the record that the performances sold them very well indeed. This is a story of mob bosses and crime and bookies and assassinations and mistaken identity and vengeance. It’s all very cleverly done without much slight of hand at all, really. There’s something important missing for most of the movie, but otherwise it’s all there, plain to see. I like that.

It helps the movie that the main character, Slevin, is played by Josh Hartnett with an affable demeanor that you can’t help smiling at. He comes off as just the unluckiest guy ever and while yes, it fazes him a little, mostly he just seems resigned to it. After all, what the hell can he do, right? He has no ID and two rival gangs think he’s this other guy, Nick, and Nick owes them both a good deal of money. He can’t prove he’s not Nick, and Nick is nowhere to be found. Meanwhile, there’s a mysterious hitman named Goodkat who seems to have his fingers in both pies. Clearly, it’s a set-up. So when the Boss, leader of one gang, tells Slevin to do him a favor and he’ll count Nick’s debt paid off, Slevin reluctantly agrees. And he’s so calm about it, you know he’s got a trick up his sleeve because the favor is to kill the Boss’s rival’s son in retaliation for his own son’s death, which he believes his rival had a hand in. And the rival, the Rabbi? He’s been talking to Slevin too. He wants his money.

And the whole time Slevin is in Nick’s apartment, because he thought he was going to be staying with Nick but clearly Nick isn’t there and the only person who is there is Nick’s neighbor, Lindsey. And Lindsey seems to be a regular Nancy Drew and is hot on the case of Nick’s disappearance. Slevin and Lindsey get friendly and Slevin explains to her what’s going on and he’s just so very blown away by it. After all, what a coincidence! What a horrible coincidence. The two of them give this movie the tone it has. Because when you’re in the penthouses with the Boss (Morgan Freeman) and the Rabbi (Ben Kingsley) or the surveillance van where detective Brikowski (Stanley Tucci) is keeping an eye on all? When you’re seeing Goodkat (Bruce Willis) idly snap the neck of someone he’s talking to? This is a very dark movie indeed with very bad stuff happening. But when you’re watching Slevin and Lucy Liu as Lindsey chat in Nick’s apartment, trying to work through what’s going on and just how Slevin’s going to get out of it? It takes on a decidedly different tone of very dark but very funny humor. Their interactions are fun and full of chemistry. They banter, which is fantastic, and you get a good feel for both of them.

Now, if I was going to spoil the movie and go into the specifics of how it’s all worked out, I could probably do some armchair analysis of a couple of characters’ psyches and go into my one quibble with the movie. But I’m not going to. The synopsis is out there. I found it easily enough. What I will say is that there’s a particular plot point near the end which I felt cheapened things a bit, but having read about the alternative, I agree it would have been too dark. It would have been nice if there had been some middle ground, but there wasn’t. But it doesn’t take away from the cleverness or the wit or the humor or the crime or the vengeance. Because even with that bit, the performances still sell it.

February 22, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Lucky Number Slevin

February 22, 2011

Lucky Number Slevin

It had been many years since I last watched this movie, and the circumstances of my first viewing were such that I didn’t really trust my memory of the film. I watched this movie back when I was managing the North Quincy Blockbuster location over the course of four lunch breaks. It was something I used to do to kill the time while eating lunch – I’d pick out a recent release and watch it in segments. It’s not a recommended way to view a film, and as a result I wasn’t sure just how well this movie worked as a whole. See, the film has three segments and I watched each on a different day so I didn’t know how well it fit together. There’s the hook, where we get a grizzly crime story in the opening that sets up the world of the movie. Then there’s the main body of the movie where we see an unfortunate individual struggling to stay afloat in this nasty world. And finally there’s the reveal, which explains how the two stories fit together and just what exactly has been going on the whole time.

After finally seeing the whole movie in a single sitting tonight I can happily say that it works wonderfully. The story of Sleven, an unlucky schlub who through a case of mistaken identity finds himself caught up in a deadly rivalry between two crime lords, is compelling and fascinating. From the opening story, narrated by a very mysterious Bruce Willis before he kills some random guy in a bus stop, we know just how bloody and dangerous this world is. We know that an innocent family man can be brutally murdered and his entire family as well if he makes the mistake of backing the wrong horse. So we know just how perilous things are for Slevin, which adds a lot of tension to the movie. That tension works in strange contrast to the majority of the film because Slevin is played by Josh Hartnett with a sly wit, and most of the movie is played for comedic effect.

Slevin is caught between a mob boss called “The Boss” and a Jewish crime lord called “The Rabbi” (because he’s a rabbi of course.) There’s a sinister hit man called Goodkat involved as well and a detective named Brikowski trying desperately to make sense of it all. There’s also the mystery of Slevin’s missing friend Nick Fisher, who owes vast sums of money to both mob bosses and for whom Slevin has been mistaken. Trying to figure everything out with Slevin is the neighbor from across the hall from Nick’s apartment, Lindsey, who is a free wheeling adventurous soul who enjoys trying to solve a mystery.

I can’t decide what I like more about this movie: the snappy, quick and clever script by Jason Smilovic or the amazing and brilliant cast. It’s a tragedy that this is Smilovic’s only feature film writing credit, because the script is pure brilliance. The dialog is fast, filled with pop culture references, and delivers both tension and humor in equal parts. That script in turn is brought to brilliant life by the group of ultra-high-caliber actors that make up the cast. Morgan Freeman is as always fantastic – full of gravitas and a slow burning fury as The Boss. His rival, The Rabbi, is played by Ben Kingsley as a caricature, but a sinister one. Kingsley can express so much with just a little gesture or exclemation. He takes a role that was written almost exclusively as parody and gives him an anguished soul. Bruce Willis plays the deadly killer Goodkat with his usual flare. The real stars, though, and the pair that give the most fun and life to the movie, are Josh Hartnett and Lucy Liu. The repartee between Slevin and Lindsey is so spontaneous, so entertaining, and so incongruous in a movie filled with brutal and deadly mob bosses that it wonderfully brings the whole movie to life.

I’m so glad that I own this movie. I’m glad we decided to put it in tonight, and I’m glad that I was able to share it with Amanda. We have so many glaring omissions in our collection (The Big Hit and Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Out of Sight and Get Shorty all leap to mind) that it’s good to know the mob-caper-comedy genre is still in some way represented by a couple movies we own. I could watch Slevin and Lindsey together any day of the week.

February 22, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment