Tuesday, August 17, 2010

What is a 'Lucky Number Slevin' anyhow?

Lucky Number Slevin (aka "The Wrong Man") (2006)
Starring: Josh Hartnett, Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Stanley Tucci, Lucy Liu, and Ben Kingsley
Director: Paul McGuigan
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

A case of mistaken identity places Slevin Kelevra (Hartnett) squarely in the middle of a decades-old feude between two rival crimelords (Freeman and Kingsley) that's about to get very, very hot. With a quirky coroner (Liu) as his only ally, and a cop with a dark secret out to arrest him (Tucci), Slevin has three days to figure out a way to balance the mutually exclusive expectations of the criminals threatening him and stay alive in the process. The difficult situation may well be impossible, as the feared assassin Mr. Goodkat (Willis) is also in the mix, with an agenda dating back over 20 years.

When "Lucky Number Slevin" appeared in theaters in 2006, I wrote in my review of it that "it seems that Hollywood is finally making some good thrillers again" and "I can declare that the dry-spell of decent thrillers in the vein of Hitchcock is over."

I have since stepped a bit back from that optimistic position--2006 was just a very good year for the thriller genre... the Hollywood offerings quickly returned to the levels of crapitude I have come to accept as reality--but "Lucky Number Slevin" was and is a great mix of film-noir genre standards and comedy that is enhanced by sharply crafted dialogue and presented in a fabulously convoluted mystery plot. The acting is top-rate by all involved, the set design appropriately strange (reflecting Slevin's bizarre predicament), with clever use of editing, overlays, and the musical score serving only to elevate what is already good even further. While there isn't a whole lot of originality in "Lucky Number Slevin" as far as the story goes, it uses the building blocks of a film-noir story so effectively that pretty much everything works here. (In fact, "Lucky Number Slevin" reminded me more of Hitchcock at his best than countless movies that critics have labeled "Hitchcockian" over the years.)

The only complaint I have with the film is Liu's character, Lindsey. Her dinginess became a little hard to swallow after it was revealed that she was a coronor, and I didn't buy the insta-relationship between her and Slevin. I have the same problem with a number of classic suspense movies--with Hitchcock's "Notorious" and "The Trouble With Harry" being among the biggest offenders--but given that it's an element that's present in many of "Lucky Number Slevin's" filmic ancestors, it doesn't bother me any more here that it does in the others.

I think fans of Hitchcock movies and well-done crime/caper movies will find "Lucky Number Slevin" well worth their time and money.

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