Friday 5 April 2019

Movie Review: Lucky Number Slevin (2006)

A raucous crime thriller, Lucky Number Slevin offers a delectable multi-faceted plot and jaunty execution. A busy story of gangland vendettas offers rich rewards and plenty of barbed wit.

After a series of seemingly unrelated murders including the killing of two bookies and a sniper attack, Goodkat (Bruce Willis) sits next to a young man at an empty bus terminal and recounts a strange story from 1979, when a struggling family was brutally annihilated as a result of a horse race fix gone wrong.

Back in the present Slevin Kelevra (Josh Hartnett) arrives in New York City to stay at the apartment of his friend Nick Fisher, who is mysteriously nowhere to be found. Jovial next-door neighbour Lindsey (Lucy Liu) makes friends with Slevin, but he is soon mistaken for Nick and abducted, twice: first by mobsters working for The Boss (Morgan Freeman), then by goons working for The Rabbi (Ben Kingsley).

The Boss and The Rabbi used to be gangland partners who ran the city's most powerful crime syndicate. Now they have fallen out, The Boss' son has been killed, and he wants Slevin to assassinate The Rabbi's son in retaliation. Meanwhile The Rabbi wants Slevin to repay an outstanding loan. Goodkat is lurking in the shadows, and police detective Brikowski (Stanley Tucci) tries to untangle all the motives as Slevin seeks to survive the impending mayhem.

Plenty of movies have attempted to recreate the sheer verve of Pulp Fiction; few have succeeded as well as Lucky Number Slevin. This is an in-your-face barely-in-control full throttle thriller, a white knuckle wild ride through the world of crime and punishment.

Combining numerous disparate events that slowly converge into a brilliant whole with a collection of memorable characters, Lucky Number Slevin is an intricate narrative puzzle. The film starts with the pieces all over the place, but writer Jason Smilovic and director Paul McGuigan know exactly where they are heading and how to get there. Every detail matters, and as the picture is assembled the narrative wizardry comes to the fore. Of course the plot holes are there to be picked, but overall the story of vendettas, revenge, goons and rogue assassinations is sly and resplendent.

Stylistically McGuigan deploys typical Tarantinoesque touches, including colourful marginal characters, just about everyone lying about almost everything, occasional philosophizing, brief explosions of violence, and oddities like rivals The Boss and The Rabbi occupying apartments across the street from each other. In relative terms the blood and gore are dialed back, and Lucky Number Slevin revels in the power of a single compact trigger event for all the mayhem.

The cast members stay within themselves and allow the script to star. Josh Hartnett is in the middle of the pandemonium as Slevin, and finds one of his career best fitting roles. Without stretching beyond established personas, Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman and Ben Kingsley offer plenty of weighty veteran talent, all three as men still trading in death when they should know better.

Breezy and fierce in equal measures, Lucky Number Slevin runs the perfect race.

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