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LUCKY NUMBER SLEVIN

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Josh Hartnett, Morgan Freeman, Ben Kingsley, Lucy Liu, Stanley Tucci, Bruce Willis, Mykelti Williamson, Danny Aiello
Director: Paul McGuigan
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Weinstein Company
Features: See Review
Length: 110 Minutes
Release Date: September 12, 2006

“Say somethin’ else! I will break your motherfu**in’ nose. I ain’t playin’ with you!”

“My nose is already broken.”

Film ***1/2

If the worlds of Quentin Tarantino and Alfred Hitchcock were to ever cross, the result would definitely look something like Lucky Number Slevin. The film is a dark comedic thriller involving the criminal underworld and a case of mistaken identity. Hitchcock’s 1959 classic North by Northwest, which was also about a case of mistaken identity, is even referenced in the film at a key point.

Right from the very beginning of the film, there’s a sense that the story has got many tricks up its sleeve. Part of the fun is guessing what the tricks are, as well as how will everything be revealed in the end. If you aren’t quite use to films involving lengthy cons and slight-of-hand situations, then chances are you may get lost in all the mix. The film is definitely intended for fans of stylish thrillers with that “Tarantino-esque” quality. Since the director’s Pulp Fiction made such a huge impact on films about the criminal underworld, it’s hard for any single film about shady characters in the underworld to not be derived in somewhat from a Tarantino film.

The film opens with the introduction of Slevin (Josh Hartnett), who isn’t exactly having the best day of his life. He has just lost his job, discovered his girlfriend cheating on him, and had his nose broken during a mugging all in the same day. Now to make matters worse, a couple of thugs bust into the apartment he’s staying at to tell him that The Boss wants a word with him.

Slevin, who at this point should be stunned beyond words that his day has gone from bad to worse in a heartbeat, tells them that he’s not the guy they’re looking for. The apartment belongs to his longtime friend named Nick Fisher. But the two thugs don’t buy the boy’s explanation and soon Slevin gets his nose punched out once more before facing the mysterious Boss (Morgan Freeman).

The Boss, also believing him to be Nick Fisher, announces to Slevin that a debt of precisely $96,000 is owed. But The Boss is willing to forego the debt in exchange for the kid doing a certain favor for him. The favor: to execute the son of a rival gangster known simply as The Rabbi (Ben Kingsley). The reason for the desired execution: The Boss’s son was recently killed and there’s no doubt in his mind that The Rabbi was responsible. The two crime bosses were once allies, but are now opposing forces that reside in high rise buildings across the street from one another.

Not too long after this meeting, Slevin is brought to the offices of The Rabbi, who it turns out is also owed money by Nick Fisher. He, too, will wipe off the debt if a small favor is done for him. The favor: execute The Boss so that he can rule the city’s criminal market. This officially puts Slevin is one serious dilemma.

Added to the mix a dark and mysterious world-class assassin named Mr. Goodkat (Bruce Willis), who appears to be working on both sides of the fence. The Boss has hired him out to see that this complicated “job” doesn’t look too much like a “job”, and that Slevin takes the fall for the hit at all costs. The Rabbi has employed him for exactly the same reason.

That’s actually about all that I can reveal about the film, since the remaining portions include one surprising plot twist after another, it seems. In fact there are so many twists that, by the film’s end, you won’t know what hit you. Let’s just say that things don’t go quite as planned regarding the assignment Slevin is ordered to execute.

Director Paul McGuigan, who also directed the heavily underrated romantic thriller Wicker Park (which also starred Josh Hartnett), displays a superb and slick visual style, always a necessary ingredient for this type of film. He also incorporates some nice touches in the handling of the storytelling, such as that of numerous flashback sequences where crucial information is revealed. And when all the many twists and turns are unleashed, McGuigan lets them unfold slowly and satisfyingly, so that the viewer doesn’t get tremendously lost.

And much like a Tarantino film, Lucky Number Slevin boasts a remarkable cast of actors, each of whom shine in their roles. Josh Hartnett carries the film extremely well, while veteran pros Freeman, Kingsley and Willis deliver what they deliver best, and at a hundred percent. It’s also a treat to see Morgan Freeman in the kind of role that he doesn’t usually play, that of a dark and sinister character.

Lucky Number Slevin is a grand mixture of style and substance, with neither element outshining the other. Those who appreciate crime thrillers with that dark comic touch will indeed get their moneys worth.

Video ****

This is one absolutely superb anamorphic presentation courtesy of The Weinstein Company. Director McGuigan’s uncanny sense of visual flair and all around style is displayed in eye-gazing form. The image quality is crisp and clear from beginning to end, and there are endless individual shots that deliver outstanding detail.

Audio ***1/2

The 5.1 mix soars immensely! The film can best be described as part dialogue-driven, part bullet-riddled bloodbath. The dialogue is delivered as clear as can possibly be, but when characters whip out their guns…WATCH OUT, because the simple sound of a single bullet whizzing by will assault your ears with a sharp fury. Music playback is also stunning.

Features ***

Featured on this disc are two commentary tracks; one with director Paul McGuigan and the other with McGuigan, Josh Hartnett, Lucy Liu and screenwriter Jason Smilovic. Also included is a featurette titled, “Making Lucky Number Slevin”, Deleted Scenes and Alternate Ending and a Theatrical Trailer.

Summary:

Lucky Number Slevin is one of the best pieces of noir I’ve come across in a while, since not many are made these days. It’s deliciously twisted, brutal, and a whole hell of a lotta fun! With such a great cast headlining such an entertaining and heavily plotted stylish film, it definitely has all the right cinematic ingredients.

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