Film Talk · Making a case for... · Uncategorized

Making a case for…Lucky Number Slevin

My last one was around Elizabethtown, which feels like a harder sell as it has so much negative press. I don’t feel it’s such a tough convincing case required for Lucky Number Slevin, but perhaps a case of it not being as seen or appreciated as it could be.

Warning: It’s a tough film to talk about without spoiling so while I’ve tried, there are things I wanted to touch on. My recommendation would always be to see this knowing as little as possible. Read on if you’re not afraid of no ghosts spoilers.

The cast for this film is pretty impressive on paper. Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Ben Kingsley, Josh Hartnett and Lucy Liu. It’s a pleasant point that it makes the most of its cast too. It’s a Willis performance that doesn’t feel dialled in, perhaps one of the last in recent years?

Lucky Number Slevin is a twisting and turning story that never really lets up when it comes to pacing, meaning it should keep even those with the shortest attention span, entertained. Summing up the plot without spoiling any of this is quite difficult. So let’s just say Josh Hartnett is Slevin, a young man whose mistake identity lands him in quite the predicament with two ever sparring gangsters and only Lucy Liu’s Lindsey seemingly around to help him make sense of it.

I’ve always enjoyed the opening of this film. I may well have a bit of a film-based fetish for airport usage in films. It opens in an airport waiting room, largely empty and silent bar for one man. In comes Willis, in a wheelchair, telling a story to this man that sets us up for the rest of the film. It’s a hooking opener, throwing us back to what we presume is the 80s based on style and cars. ‘It all begins with a horse’, great sort of crime-noir tale that spans on. I’ve always appreciated the 360 back to that same airport waiting room at the end too.

So it may just be me, as a naive Brit, but I knew nothing of the Kansas City Shuffle. It’s a great opening to the film and how it’s explained equally so. Once it is explained you release the idea of the thing is used in so many crime and heist films. The fact that eventually we come to understand why it’s important is cleverly done and the use of a song again about it at the end is a pleasing way to enter the end credits.

In style, you may compare it to the likes of Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and there is clear influence from Tarantino’s work in this too. It’s scatty sometimes in how it’s told, how we jump back and forth. Like with the racehorse story at the beginning. We see how word of mouth can twist and distort things. Which reminds me of my office. You decide in a good or bad way!

Now this was a film I watched a fair few times as a teenager. I have Josh Hartnett to thank for what made me want to check it out. He spends a good portion of the film in a towel which probably appealed to the teenage me at that time. Now older and a little more serious about film, it still holds up and he’s the real star of the film despite the other heavyweights around him. He’s underappreciated as an actor perhaps, but this role seems perfect for him. He’s charming but equally ruthless and nails when to be funny and when to be serious. I do buy the chemistry he has with Liu’s Lindsey too.

Liu deserves her praise for this film. Rather than just being reduced to being the girlfriend/romantic lead, she’s part of the catalyst for the investigation. She’s important. Their meet cute is entertaining and they’re believable. I’m a sucker for quick, witty dialogue (see my love of Gilmore Girls) and they have that. Perhaps their relationship gets a little cutesy at one point, but then they redeem it with the Bond talk in bed that’s great. It’s Liu who asks the questions, takes it upon herself to find out more and who finds out about Smith.

If you were to get me to pick one bone with the film, it’s a technique they thankfully only really use very early on. It’s the blurry effects when we’re catching up with events and why Slevin was in Nick’s apartment to begin with. They look awful and while the events are great and we need them, with the dialogue implying this is past events, did we need the effects. It’s even odder when you consider the opening is about past events but foregoes this awful effect.

The good more than makes up for it though. The buildings we visit are all fabulous and lavish, the dialogue is often quotable and snappy. The setup for the two crime bosses being effectively trapped in their adjacent palaces through fear is effective. The nicknames too work and the meanings. I won’t go into it too much for fear of spoiling, but it’s clever. For a film that relies so much on the twists and reveals, it’s equally great to watch again and again despite knowing the outcome.

Re-watches allow you the chance to take every little detail in and I’m ashamed to say it was only on this latest revisit that I noticed the sandwich theme. There are numerous scenes where we see characters with a sandwich, or where the camera is focused on them. Rarely are they ever finished though.

Now, some complain about the ending and perhaps it is a little too neat, but I’m definitely more of a fan of it than most. It ties off quite well in my opinion. Anyone else out there that has seen this film and gets frustrated with how little it’s known?

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