Judge Clark Douglas borrowed stylistic elements from Judges Mancini, Cullum, and Kulik while writing this review.
Our review of Lucky Number Slevin, published September 12th, 2006, is also available.
Wrong time. Wrong place. Wrong number.
There are a lot of reasons that I could dislike Lucky Number Slevin. It's self-indulgent, in love with it's own cleverness, and the characters contain, I believe, some false motivations. But somehow, the flick won me over. This is the sort of movie in which the story is everything, and the story is nothing. In some portions, the movie is a carefully crafted, extremely complicated plot that needs to be followed with a magnifying glass. In other sections, scenes seem to exist only to allow a bunch of professional actors to mix it up. In retrospect, I now realize that both of these elements work together for the greater good, and I am pleased.
The movie opens with a wheelchair-bound Bruce Willis telling a story to a young stranger. The story involves a concept called "The Kansas City Shuffle," which, it is said, can't be done without a body. I'm still trying to figure out how exactly the whole Kansas City Shuffle thing works from a technical standpoint, but indeed, there are bodies aplenty in Lucky Number Slevin. The violence level and body count is high in the film, but for the most part, it's hardly disturbing given the movie's quirky tone.
As far as I'm concerned, the primary reason to see Slevin is performances. In my book, there are few greater joys in cinema than to watch a group of good actors getting to bite into some juicy roles. The primary character is Slevin (Josh Hartnett, Sin City), a guy mistaken for another guy named Nick Fisher. Mistaken identity turns out to be a huge problem for Slevin, given that Fisher is being tracked down by two major crime lords who happen to live across from each other in separate skyscrapers. The first is The Boss, played by Morgan Freeman (Wanted) in Christopher Walken mode. The second is The Rabbi, played by Ben Kingsley (Bloodrayne) as a bizarre hybrid of his characters from Sexy Beast and Schindler's List. Working for both of them is a hit man named Mr. Goodkat (Bruce Willis, The Sixth Sense), of whom it is said, "He shows up, people die, he leaves." Of course there is a love interest, but considering that she is played by Lucy Liu (Dirty Sexy Money), we are presented with something fresh and original. And of course there is a cop (Stanley Tucci, The Terminal), but this man is more than a mere do-the-right-thing member of the NYPD in pursuit of justice.
Hartnett's task is surely the most difficult, as he must go toe-to-toe with every single one of these great actors. But he holds his own quite well, and never for an instant seems out of his league, blending saracastic humor, curiosity, and a lot of eyebrow-raising into a solid performance. Liu is just charming as his girlfriend, and it's nice to see her playing a cheerful role for a change. Bruce Willis has lots of fun here, playing a sharp, slick character who doesn't seem as if he's going to keel over from alcoholism, lack of sleep, or a bad heart anytime soon. His performance seems to be made up of carefully delivered lines, threatening poses, and suppressed smirks. He works his movie star persona to the max for the part of the deadly hitman. Kingsley finds the right ambiguity for his role, and Freeman bites into his bad guy character with gleeful joy. I was also pleasantly surprised to discover that Robert Forster (Jackie Brown) shows up towards the end, serving as the unwitting final piece of the puzzle.
Lucky Number Slevin, in the end, is a bit smug and pretentious to say the least. Although I don't care for the "haha, we fooled you," tone, I must confess, I was indeed fooled, and I admired the plot's carefully crafted complexity. I can't say much about the movie's flaws without giving things away, but allow me to say this. I didn't buy any of the plot revelations involving Lucy Liu's character. I found them cheap and contrived, like something out of a late night cop drama. Also, much as I loved the dialogue in the film, I find it hard to believe that a grieving father would say of his dead son, "He's dead. Deceased. Relegated to the past. Shot from an 'is' to a 'was' before his breakfast." Nice line, but curiously inappropriate. Despite these complaints, the film is a success, especially for those who enjoy this sort of thing. Granted, it's an imitation The Usual Suspects story with imitation Quentin Tarantino characters who speak imitation David Mamet dialogue, but it's a pretty decent imitation. Director Paul McGuigan is hardly the real McCoy, but he can step in line right behind Robert Rodriguez on the list of could-be wannabes.
There isn't a drastic difference between this hi-def transfer and the DVD transfer, but the film looks pretty good. Blacks are reasonably deep and facial detail is pretty sharp. There isn't anything jaw-dropping her, but the visual don't exactly offer anything that has the potential of making one's jaw drop. The TrueHD audio is stellar, but that's about it. Music, dialogue, and sound design are well-distributed. It's not exceptionally immersive or exciting, but effective. In terms of extras, once again we have a Blu-ray release that offers nothing new. Everything here was included on the DVD release. That being said, we are blessed with two good audio commentaries. The first is an engaging track from director Paul McGuigan, which focuses on the plot and some of the more technical details. The second is a more light-hearted track with Josh Hartnett, Lucy Liu, and writer Jason Smilovic. We also get a making-of featurette, a conversation with Harnett and Liu, an alternate ending, deleted & extended scenes, and a theatrical trailer.
Lucky Number Slevin is a pretty cool little flick; the rare Tarantino imitation that actually works. Is the Blu-ray worth an upgrade? Nah, not really. The curious who don't own the movie may want to pick it up, but those who have the DVD should probably just hang onto the DVD. The film is not guilty. The disc just doesn't bring much of interest to the party, and is required to pay a $100 fine.
Court is adjourned.
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