Lucky Number Slevin

They say it all starts with a horse. It does, in a sense, but then it leads you all over the map, a confusing trip, but oh what a journey. It's a crazy, wild, twisting adventure that will leave you stunned, amazed, and laughing until your belly hurts. What is it? A brilliantly funny, dark, violent, touching, hard to pin down film called Lucky Number Slevin. It could be a gangster film, or a thriller, or a mystery, or heck, even a very odd take on a romantic comedy. Maybe it fits into the caper genre. I'm pretty sure it's not horror, although it is dark. In fact it could be film noir. But does it really matter if you can't stick it into a niche and give it a genre? I don't think it does. After all if even the writer, Jason Smilovic, isn't sure what to call this movie, we should be happy to classify it as just plain spellbinding.

Although Lucky Number Slevin is being compared to a Tarantino film, or The Usual Suspects, or even The Big Chill, it is most definitely in a class by itself. Originally written as a simple story of a guy with phenomenally bad luck, the script has changed over the last ten years into something much more layered and complex. Josh Hartnett plays Slevin, a guy who lost his job, his girlfriend, got mugged and is about to be embroiled in a war between major crime rivals who happen to think he is someone else. To make matters worse he's got a smart mouth that gets him into plenty more trouble, for instance when a cop tells him he'd better play ball, he asks if the cop thinks he's tall enough, just one of the many throwaway lines that make the dialogue so snappy. (While watching this movie you may ask yourself, "How many times can you break someone's nose? Isn't there a limit to these things?"

Slevin is picked up by a crime boss, called The Boss, played by Morgan Freeman, who manages to bring an oddly sweet fatherly touch to this role. The Boss thinks that Slevin is a fellow named Nick Fisher, who owes him a hefty sum of money. The Boss hates his rival, The Rabbi and wants Slevin/Nick to do him a small favor, for which he is willing to write off the debt. Unfortunately the favor involves killing someone, not just someone, but someone who is very well protected. One of the best things about Lucky Number Slevin is how utterly unpredictable the story is. I had no idea what was going to happen or what Slevin was going to do to get out of this jam, even though usually I can predict the plot and the dialogue.

The camera work was fun and interesting, with some fabulous shots, and the acting was sublime. Lucy Liu, who plays the girl who lives across the hall from Nick, is adorable. You just want to stick her in your pocket and take her everywhere you go. I really felt the script played to her strengths and was interested to read that the scriptwriter is a friend of hers and rewrote the part when he learned she wanted to do the film. It is a pleasure seeing her play a character with a strong sense of humor and whimsy. Sir Ben Kingsley is absolutely brilliant as usual, playing a Rabbi gangster who manages to get along with both parts of his personality just fine.

I have heard some complaints about this movie, mostly about how bloody it is. I have to agree, it is quite bloody but it still worked for me. What is life worth in this film? Not a plugged nickel, that's for sure. I remember when Pulp Fiction came out, people were calling it ultraviolent and I wasn't sure what exactly that meant. Slevin is more along the lines of what I thought I expected. People get shot left and right, but, much like the Libertine, the movie definitely begins as it means to go on and you can't really complain and say you didn't expect all that violence. You get it right upfront, at the beginning of the film.

So if you can tolerate the violence, (think Sin City, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) and you like movies that make you laugh, think, and gasp you should definitely go see this one. Possible spoiler alert - I really liked how engaged the audience is with this movie. Their attachment is obvious because something happens that is so awful and over the top, and just plain too much to bear, that there were cries of "no" and "oh" and "why?" from all over the theater. It was a heartbreaking instant but how I love to be in a group of strangers all feeling the same feeling, living the same moment. That is why I'm willing to shell out forty-five bucks to take my family to the movies, for that instant of communion.