Part mystery, part suspense, and part gangster flick, Lucky Number Slevin uses a slick and clever device to tell an otherwise straightforward story.
Slevin (Hartnett) is probably the most unlucky person in Manhattan. First he loses his job, then his apartment, then his girlfriend, then his wallet during a mugging. When he moves in with his buddy Nick, who has left the door open for him and never bothered to show up, troubles continue to find him. Mistaken identity puts Slevin in the middle of a gang war between the Boss (Freeman) and the Rabbi (Kingsley) in a fit of retaliation, after the Rabbi assassinated the Boss’s son. Meanwhile, a mysterious assassin, Mr. Goodkat (Willis) is pulling strings on both sides. What does he want? What is he up to?
The plot takes on a new twist when the Boss pressures Slevin to kill the Rabbi’s gay son. Slevin’s new girlfriend, Lindsey (Liu), has a conspiracy theory, and she’s itching to investigate further. Meanwhile, Slevin is under surveillance by a ruthless detective, Brikowski (Tucci). What does he want? What is he up to?
Hartnett (Sin City) is somewhat lackluster as Slevin. His nonchalant attitude, even during the most dire situation, is unsettling. Also, his character is rather unlikable, despite all the bad things that are happening to him. Hartnett’s transformation later also isn’t very convincing. Willis (16 Blocks) is cool, but his character seems too cold and unemotional to have any weight. Goodkat is all about mystery. But with that, we don’t really get to know him well.
Liu (Domino) has a fun role as Lindsey, a happy-go-lucky coroner who gets involved with Slevin and his troubles. Freeman (Batman Begins) is always impressive, even in a relative small role as the Boss. You can’t help but feel the evil and ruthlessness underneath his sophisticated exterior. Likewise, Kingsley (Oliver Twist) makes the best of his role as the conflicted Rabbi, even though the material fails to explore the potentially complex character. Tucci (Robots) plays the deplorable detective to perfection. From the moment he comes on screen, you know you want to loathe him. Now that’s acting.
The screenplay by Smilovic (Karen Sisco) is rather convoluted. The central idea is a smart one, and once you understand the story, there is a certain “a-ha” moment. It is clever. However, I think Smilovic tries too hard to be clever, and the way he structures and interweaves the plot and subplots makes it hard to understand. Eventually, all the pieces fall into place, but during the first half of the film, you can’t help but scratch your head and wonder: What is going on? Of course, if you pay attention, the character Mr. Goodkat actually explains a lot at the beginning of the film, especially he doesn’t tell you exactly what it is that you’re going to witness. That’s clever, but probably too clever.
The plot moves swiftly enough, making it impossible for the audience to stop and question the plot holes, and there are plenty. The dialogue is sometimes corny. Smilovic also relies on flashbacks and cutaways to reveal the mystery. I find that device rather annoying and manipulative. It’s clear that the writer takes great effort to deceive the audience. But for those who know what the story is about, it might actually be fun to observe how the writer constructs his “magic.”
In a way, director McGuigan’s (Wicker Park) vision meshes well with Smilovic’s. The quick cuts and contemporary style reminds me of Wicker Park, another story that aimed at deceiving the audience by using fancy story structures and editing. All is good except when you think about it, it’s kind of a one trick pony. It is as if the writer and the director cut up a big piece of meat and toss it all over the place to make you wonder what kind of meat it is. Then you find out it’s just a piece of chicken breast.
Its clever plot manipulation does create certain pseudo-excitement, and the action and violence works in most cases. But once that excitement is gone, and the mystery is revealed, you’re left with a strange aftertaste, like you’ve just been used, and the filmmakers are behind the door laughing, feeling nothing but lucky.
Stars: Josh Hartnett, Bruce Willis, Lucy Liu, Morgan Freeman, Ben Kingsley, Michael Rubenfeld, Peter Outerbridge, Stanley Tucci
Director: Paul McGuigan
Writer: Jason Smilovic
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
MPAA Rating: R for language, strong violence, sexuality
Running Time: 109 minutes
Script – 7
Performance – 6
Direction – 6
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 7
Production – 8
Total – 6.7 out of 10