Lucky Number Slevin
One of the most popular themes used in movies is to place a man in the wrong place at the wrong time. It can be used to pull an innocent person into a world of hurt or perhaps a low level crook into a caper way over his head. One the best of this specific sub genre is ‘North by Northwest’ by the undisputed master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock. As with any type of film great directors like this have set the bar awfully high for those to follow. Still, in order for the art of cinema to advance the newer film makers have to give it a try. One such director is Paul McGuigan and his latest film under consideration here is ‘Lucky Number Slevin’. It is never going to be hailed as a classic and the film has its technical problems but overall it can be a reasonably entertaining flick if you don’t overdo it with your expectations. There is a ‘seen that before’ feeling to while watching but if you want a pizza and beer piece for movie night with some friends it just might suite the bill. This is the kind of flick whose enjoyment factor is inversely proportional to the amount of think you tend to do during a movie. If you are able to shut off those higher brain functions for a couple of hours it will help a lot in this case. Now this is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes you just want a fun flick and this one does work for the most part in this category. The film had international releases throughout 2006 into 2007. It then went on to a DVD release in September 2006. Now there is a new release of the film in the high definition Blu-ray format. If you are going to get into it you might as well see and hear it in the best way possible.
Providing the screenplay for this flick was Jason Smilovic. Prior to this his only writing credits were some episodes for the shorted lived television series ‘Karen Sisco’. This is the only feature film script since he returned to TV after this film. He has a strong ability to tell a story but the setup here does tend to get away from him rather quickly. It is a case where the author is trying too hard to be witty; a problem that has hit a good number of script writers since the advent of Quentin Taratino. His ‘Pulp Fiction’ and ‘Reservoir Dogs’ were modern masterpieces with their quick paced dialogue juxtaposed against graphically violent images. There is a reason why plot devices such as ‘wrong place wrong time’ and ‘mistaken identity’ are so often used; they work with the audience. It allows the writer to take some regular, reasonable guy and shove him into the most unreasonable of circumstances. This is the case here but Smilovic paints himself into a corner with an excessive number of plot twists. They occur so often that the audience is numbed and the element of surprise for the most part is lost. A story like this depend a lot of the audience and their ability to suspend belief. If real criminals acted like this there would be no need for an organized crime task force in the police department. The genre straddles too many types of film from mystery to thriller with a touch of farce thrown in.
Director Paul McGuigan has learned a lot from Taratino but has a way to go to be anywhere in the same league. One thing you have to give to the man is his has flair to his style. This goes a very long way to sell the flick to the viewers. McGuigan has a pleasing way of handling his camera working well with cinematographer Peter Sova. Together they provide a visually interesting movie. Transitions between scenes are usually not something that the audience notices. In this case they are creative and assist dividing the flow of the film in a natural way. This is a quickly paced movie which does work against it when it comes to the audience trying to piece together the numerous plot elements and characters. A few of the choices for setting the scene may seem incredibly busy. If you notice there are wall coverings used that seem very complicated in their pattern. This does appear to be part of McGuigan highly visual style. True to the format of Taratino the story is told with a certain degree of non linearity. There are flashbacks that are used to provide the exposition and even start the film in motion.
Slevin Kelevra (Josh Hartnett) is staying at the apartment of his friend, Nick Fisher (Sam Jaeger) when there is a knock on the door. He meets Nick’s overly enthusiastic neighbor Lindsey (Lucy Liu). Slevin explains that Nick is not there and the door was open when he got there. Lindsey seems upset that Nick is missing. Shortly there after Slevin is kidnapped by Sloe (Mykelti Williamson) and Elvis (Dorian Missick); two thugs that look like they are directly from central casting. He is taken before a powerful crime lord, The Boss (Morgan Freeman). They believe that Slevin is Nick and they want the money he owes them. Since there is no available money of the amount they demand the Boss offers Slevin as Nick a way out. He has to murder Yitzcok (Michael Rubenfeld) the gay son of a Jewish rival crime lord known as the Rabbi (Ben Kingsley). Slevin is naturally upset not wanting to kill someone but the alternative of his death for Nick’s debt is even less attractive. Unknown to him the Boss plans to have both Slevin/Nick and Yitzcok dead and make it look like a murder suicide. Nick was not very good with money management. He owed the Boss $96,000 and soon Slevin discovers he was into the Rabbi an additional $33,000. Slevin really needs to consider some new friends. There is a lot going on here so you do have to pay a lot of attention to the plots as they weave together.
This is an amazing cast. Harnett is one of the brightest actors on the scene today. He can pull off the average guy in trouble bit extremely well. Lui is one of those actresses who are not only beautiful but talented in most genres. She can handle the thriller portion of the film but does great in providing comic relief. Then there are two master class actors; Freeman and Kingsley. Both are exceptional as always although this is not the best vehicle to showcase their considerable abilities.
The new Blu-ray release by the Weinstein Company and Genius Productions is fantastic. The 1080p video is remarkably clear and vivid. The lossless True HD audio will give your home system a real workout. There are also a number of extras provided. There are two commentary tracks. The first features Lui, Smilovic and Harnett. The second is the director going through many of his stylistic choices. There is an alternate ending, some deleted scenes, a making of featurette and a chat with Hartenett and Lui. This is a good choice for that Saturday evening movie night.