The whole intent of this series is to look back on movies that have their big anniversaries on this year, so basically flicks from 2006, 1996, 1986, you get the idea. But not just any movie, but cult classics or forgotten films, or movies that have gotten a reappraisal over the years. We kick it off with Paul McGuigan’s Lucky Number Slevin.
Lucky Number Slevin tells the story of Slevin, who has been mistaken for Nick,a friend in trouble with gangsters, leading him to having to do a hit that Nick was originally going to do, all under the eyes of two different mob gangs, the police, as well as the mysterious Mister Goodkat.
Upon its release the film received very mixed reviews from critics, with a 51% on Rotten Tomatoes. It struggled in the North American box-office, pulling in just under its 25 million dollar budget, but doubling it up overseas. Audiences warmed themselves better to the film, which now scores a 7.8 rating on imdb.
But who is right at the end of the day? The critics or the audiences? I would say, the audiences. Lucky Number Slevin is an entertaining, stylish ride with great characters and decent performances. McGuigan is an underrated filmmaker, who perhaps doesn’t make consistently good films, but always makes them with a vibrant, memorable style. In Wicker Park, he made great use of mirrors and split-screens to tell a story of obsession, lies and mistaken identity. Here, him and production designer François Séguin give the film a vibrant, dizzying look, perfect for the movie’s labyrinthine story. It manages to tell us everything about the characters and period setting when we’re jumping around chronologically. That makes it all the easier to remember the visual clues we’re given throughout the film. Peter Sova’s cinematography is excellent as well, making great use of the widescreen frame and providing some very creative angles. But what McGuigan excels at here is providing enough information to make the story clear so we can follow it, but hiding it enough so we can keep wondering where it’s going.
In terms of character and story, we’re provided with enough development to care about the characters and follow them on their journey. Josh Hartnett does a good job playing the everyman role here, and when the time comes for him to change, he rises to the occasion. Him and the likes of Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman and Ben Kingsley give the best and most memorable performances, but that’s because they’re given the best roles. Unfortunately, the movie couldn’t quite do the same with Lucy Liu’s Lindsey, who does the best with what she’s given, which sadly isn’t much.
The movie may seem like it’s just a darkly comic thriller, but it ends up having a surprisingly tender center to it. For better or worse, in order to achieve it, the movie goes through some strong tonal shifts. It starts off as a violent drama, turns into a violent dark comedy and ends as a violent thriller. These sort of shifts are probably part of what didn’t sit easy with critics at first and in a way, they are jarring, but they work because by then we’ve gone along with the ride. The tone changes, but character consistency and stakes never do. If anything, we feel like we’re being put in Slevin’s shoes as he tries to figure out this crazy situation himself. There’s also the great score by J. Ralph, which includes the ultra-catchy “Kansas City Shuffle.” The score is rather minimal but it works great in following up and making the tonal shifts work.
All in all, maybe Lucky Number Slevin isn’t a great movie, but it’s a good one and well-worth seeing at least once. If you have the means, I highly recommend the Blu-Ray which makes the cinematography and production design pop-out all the more, and you can get it right here.