Lucky Number Slevin (US - DVD R1)
Gabe Powers reviews a film and tries his best to ignore said film's stupid title
Josh Hartnett is Slevin, a man who's lost his job, his apartment, and caught his girlfriend cheating on him. On a whim he decides to visit his friend, Nick, in New York to get away from his troubles. His time away goes sour when Slevin is mugged, Nick isn't home, and a couple of mob heavies come to the door looking for Nick's deep pocket debts. The Boss (Morgan Freeman), whose called such because he's a boss, you see, is not content to believe Slevin isn't Nick, and demands the debt paid...in blood.
Slevin is told to murder the Fairy (who is a homosexual, of course), the son of the Boss' rival, the Rabbi (Sir Ben Kingsley who is called such because he is an actual Rabbi). This will be tricky enough, until Slevin finds out that good ole' Nick owes a sizable debt to the Rabbi as well. Now Slevin owes the Boss the Fairy's life, and the Rabbi lots of cash, or he will be killed. All the while a shadowy, unnamed character (Bruce Willis) seems to be puppeteering the debacle from the sidelines.
Lucky Number Slevin comes out swinging, at all times rugged, warm, compelling, funny, and lets not forget, freakin' gorgeous to look at. The Elmore Leonard like prose rarely falls flat, nor does the Elmore Leonard like loopy, layered plot. I was compelled by characters I'd seen a dozen times before, locals that have been bleed to death in mainstream cinema, and a plot that at first glance appeared to be something even Guy Ritchie wouldn't touch with a twelve foot pole. Let's be honest right off the bat, this isn't entirely original stuff, and in a world ruled by Quentin Tarentino the crime film can be very old hat.
But through sheer charm of character, and, again, beautiful cinematography, Lucky Number Slevin managed to pull me right in. I was enthralled enough to forget the fact that Bruce Willis has played this same character about a billion times, and that I lost respect for Ben Kingsley the minute he agreed to be in Uwe Boll's Bloodrayne. I really wanted, even needed to know how Slevin was going to get out of this mess.
Then something horrible happened and I figured out where the film was going. The 'twist' if you will. I'm really bad about keeping myself ahead of a narrative, especially if I'm enjoying a film. I didn't figure out The Sixth Sense, Usual Suspects, or Fight Club before the filmmakers threw their brutal twists in my face. I wasn't looking for one. What happens here isn't so much a twist as a reveal, but the second I realized it, the second I started to notice all the other things wrong with the film.
I can't really go into what I didn't like about the films final third without spoiling it, so I won't, I'll just say that (don't read this if you don't want a hint)Spoiler I wanted to see a movie about a man with terminally bad luck, not another convoluted revenge story. Park Chan-Wok cornered the market on those a few years ago.Had the story continued on the mile-a-minute Leonard style, I might not have noticed that large chunks of the plot were entirely extraneous (which again, I can't go into without a bit of spoilage).
By the end credits, the film reminded me thematically very much of Willis' Last Man Standing, which is of course a remake of Yojimbo (also remade as Fistful of Dollars). I really thought this tale was going to be clever enough to stay away from such tired conventions, and this too adds a great deal to my eventual disappointment. It's not that I have a problem with the film's dark turn, it's specifically the plot turn itself.
I'll go on written record as saying I really like Josh Hartnett's acting style, and I may be the only straight, twenty-something film-geek who feels this way. I've liked him in all the films I've seen him in, and this one is no exception. The film's folly cannot be placed on his shoulders, as he makes good use of the plot elements I didn't like so much. Other members of the cast end up playing their usual characters, but everyone is in top form, and everyone plays off one another like true professionals.
And just in case I haven't mentioned it enough yet, this flick looks fantastic. The sets, the colours, the ever dynamic camera work, it's all great. The filmmakers may be rightfully accused of going a bit over the top with camera effects, gels, and alternative cranking techniques, but it all somehow manages to not feel exhaustive or tacky. I can't blame the art directors, camera crew, or director Paul McGuigan for the film's downfall anymore than I can blame the actors.
I'm afraid that my problems with the film are related to the script, or more specifically the story itself, from first time feature writer Jason Smilovic. The rest of the ‘wiser’ production really should've noticed the scripts strengths and weaknesses (based on the DVD's extras, everyone was blinded by the strengths). Most of the self-aware, stylized dialogue is great, something hard to find these days, and the set-up is solid. I just wished they'd stuck with it. If forced to compare the short comings to another film I'd point right at Boondock Saints. Both films think they're more clever than they actually are, it just happens that Lucky Number Slevin is pretty darn clever, at least for about seventy minutes or so.
Thank goodness for small favours, right? I've come to expect ace transfers from Genius Products, and they haven't failed me here. As I've stated over and over in my feature review, the cinematography is utter gorgeous, and on display here it looks great. Colours are rich and bright without every blooming (unless of course they're meant to). Blacks are black, without any noticeable noise. Detail is extremely high, some of the highest I've seen in a non-digital feature, but this detail leads to the transfer's only real shortcoming—edge enhancement. Never is this edge enhancement bad enough to become distracting, and it only happens on occasion, usually during impossible camera moves.
One might've assumed, and I'm talking about myself here, that such a hip looking feature would utilize a hip, electronic soundtrack. Though there are a few moments of hipness, the bulk of the film's music is either subtle and soft, or big and overtly dramatic. It's kind of as if John Williams and Hans Zimmer had co-scored The Godfather after watching Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. The DVD's 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack is striking music wise, with real fidelity.
Sound design is equally crisp, and the surround channels are active consistently through-out. There is a hyper real sense to the entire film, and it works well on the track. Dialogue is centered and clear. All around the audio presentation isn't as memorable as something like Saving Private Ryan, but definitely as good as one will ever hear on a medium budget thriller.
I'll start where I always do, with the audio commentaries. The first, director Paul McGuigan's solo track is the better of the two. McGuigan is fun to listen to (probably mostly because he has a Scottish accent), and is full of information. He pleads his case, and it's a decent one. Listening to him talk about the making of the film and what it meant to him actually made me like the film itself a little more.
The second commentary, featuring actors Josh Hartnett and Lucy Lui dubbed together with writer Smilovic isn't bad, but has too many blanks spots. Hartnett and Lui aren't very engaging, and engage in quite a bit of back slapping. Smilovic is at least excited about the track, and also seems to be listening to the actor track with the film, as he acknowledges that he's indeed being edited into the track, and actually answers some of the actor's questions.
The other important extra is the collection of deleted and extended scenes, half of which concern the Boss' goons and Hartnett acting funny. McGuigan has removed these for both pacing, and to keep the light tone to a bit of a minimum. I agree with the excising of the scenes, but it's too bad to lose some great improve moments. The toted ‘alternate ending’ is brief and only represents an even darker turn the film finally could've taken.
The ‘Behind the Scenes’ featurette is, as is the norm on a Genius Products release, mostly a long trailer, with excited participants over praising their work. The trailer collection on the disc just about encompasses every non-juvenile Weinstein’s release since their break-off from Disney.
If the feature section of this review sounds mournful it's because I really thought I'd found a gem in Lucky Number Slevin. My eventual disappointed was overwhelming because I was really enjoying myself. This is a fine film, but the last third is a definite step down. My review may sound entirely negative in the end, but I still recommend at least a rental for anyone curious. Perhaps I let my expectations get in the way of my enjoyment. The DVD is very solid in the Audio and Video departments, and houses a fair amount of worthwhile extras.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 12th September 2006
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Extras: Director Commentary, Writer and Actor Commentary, Alternate Ending, Deleted Scenes, Behind the Scenes, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Paul McGuigan
Cast: Josh Hartnett, Bruce Willis, Lucy Liu, Morgan Freeman, Ben Kingsley
Length: 109 minutes
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