Genius Products // 2006 // 109 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // September 12th, 2006
Lindsey: How ironic.
Slevin Kelevra: I know. I don't even gamble!
Lindsey: No. A mobster with a gay son. That's ironic.
Who says noir is a dead genre? Director Paul McGuigan seems intent on reviving the genre, and somehow has latched on to Josh Hartnett as his muse. I don't mean anything off color or untoward, just they both inspire each other and light each other's creative fires. The pair made Wicker Park previously, an interesting as hell experiment that fell a little flat in the end. But, whoa! Their second feature sings with a zippy energy and informed tone that breathes life in to an old art form. Lucky Number Slevin is all crime, underworld, and a guy in the wrong place at the wrong time every step of the way.
Through a case of mistaken identity, unlucky Slevin (Hartnett) ends up in the midst of a gang war spiraling out of control between two rival New York City crime syndicates. The warring factions are led by the Boss (Morgan Freeman, Seven) who heads up a black gang and the Rabbi (Ben Kingsley (Sexy Beast) who runs a Jewish mob. Slevin finds himself running from a mysterious assassin (Bruce Willis, Sin City) who is out to rub him in to eternity. Helping him out is a flirty neighbor (Lucy Liu, Payback) who thinks she can call on the spirits of television detective Columbo to fix the jam. But Slevin has a better idea, he's going to turn the whole thing around to his advantage. When you've got nothing to lose risk it all and pray you win big.
Welcome to one of the most fun thrillers that almost nobody caught in the theatrical release. Lucky Number Slevin packs a cool easy hipness with nonstop laughs and action as bad guy takes on bad guy in a vicious cycle. Crime lords live ridiculously close staring across from each other in neighboring high rises, ethnic mobs duke it out in a politically incorrect fight, goons are impossibly huge, and there are more false clues than The Usual Suspects to throw you out for a loop at every turn. If you like Quentin Tarantino's style mixed generously with some Elmore Leonard crime mystery this is the joint for you.
The cast is packed with legends and future legends of the silver screen. Josh "gotta be gritty" Hartnett is a revelation as the noir hero he was born to be. I thought he was just a pretty boy when he first emerged on to the scene, but he proves he can gruff it up with the best of them (even when spending thirty minutes in a towel). Bruce Willis makes his cool hit man look effortless. Lucy Liu continues her streak of interesting roles by playing the good girl. And the casting coup of the year is having Morgan Freeman square off with Ben Kingsley as rival godfathers. Cool doesn't even begin to describe their scene together, and the movie would be worth full admission just to see that. Stanley Tucci (The Devil Wears Prada) also turns in a fine performance as the cop who wants to stop an all out gang war in his city.
The production design, art direction, and cinematography all collude to make this feel like an authentic noir piece. Neonoir films like Sin City have resorted to going back to black and white, a murky trademark of the real noir era. Yet Lucky Number Slevin reinvents color to work in noir. Wallpapers zig and zag, numbers jump out of the screen, sets spiral to create incredible shadows. The design works as hard as the actors to make things feel correct.
The DVD from Genius Products is a worthy edition for the movie. The anamorphic widescreen transfer is near pristine with the only variations resulting from directorial decisions to create soft focus and images that trace and blur. The surround sound field jumps all over the room in a disorienting dizzy ride to compliment the confusion and frenetic pace of the film. Extras include two commentaries: one a soft solo track with the thickly accented director about the technical elements, and a more talky meeting between Lucy Liu and Josh Hartnett with the scriptwriter inserted after the fact. Three deleted scenes are followed by an unforgivably even darker ending than the original cut, all with optional director commentary. There is a thirteen minute lovefest labeled a "making of" documentary which mainly consists of everyone spouting how wonderful everyone else is. In this case it's not too annoying considering the truth of the great cast.
Lucky Number Slevin is a fun ride, but it feels like a true homage rather than something genuinely revolutionary. You see signatures of Hitchcock, Tarantino, Singer, and other classics collaged together like a patchwork quilt. It's good and superbly crafted, but it feels cobbled together in many ways from borrowed parts. You won't mind at all, but it's there. Also if you're squeamish, this is a quite violent movie with many harrowing sequences that come out of the blue.
Lucky Number Slevin is a rare movie that assumes the audience is smart enough to appreciate not having everything simply spelled out from frame one. It's grimly funny, and twisted enough to entertain. Noir fans should rejoice that a new chapter has been written in the buildings and gangsters vein. Murk never looked so hip, and gritty never felt so much fun. It's a satisfying ride that never lets up and never misses a step. Blind buy it if you like this sort of thing, and you'll thank me later.
Guilty of being the best noir thriller made in a decade or two.
Review content copyright © 2006 Brett Cullum; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 109 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Making Lucky # Slevin Featurette
* Deleted Scenes
* Alternate Ending
* Commentary by Writer Jason Smilovic, Actor Josh Hartnett, and Actress Lucy Liu
* Commentary by Director Paul McGuigan
* Theatrical Trailer